• Coastal Therapy

How to Avoid a Sensory Overload on the 4th!

The Fourth of July is a special holiday, celebrating America's Independence, where many people participate in parades, cook-outs, all day beach festivities, and most of all FIREWORKS! While all of these activities are meant for fun, July 4th festivities can lead to additional challenges for children with special needs, especially children who have symptoms of sensory processing disorder (SPD).

The 4th of July holiday varies from your family's typical routine. There will be large crowds, different noises, more outdoor activities (in the sun at the beach, or pool), exposure to different foods or drinks, and overall more events all day long that can lead to exhaustion, sensory overload, and meltdown. We have put together some tips and tricks to help you and your child have a memorable and fun holiday this year!

Plan Ahead

Try to come up with a plan for the day, but don't be afraid to deviate from it if you notice that your child is nearing a meltdown.

  1. Talk to your child ahead of time about the plan so they can be prepared.

  2. Plan plenty of breaks or quiet time during the day.

  3. Bring sensory calming activities for your child to participate in during breaks (many kids enjoy small fidgets, manipulative toys, puzzles, coloring books). Make a "busy box" where a child can make a paper chain, string beads, or color "Water Wow".

  4. Pack plenty of snacks and water (preferably snacks that can provide sensory input- chewy, cold, crunchy or preferred foods in-case they do not like the foods at the event).

  5. Bring an extra change of clothing, sunscreen, sun-glasses, hat, fan, and a tent or umbrella for shade or for inclement weather.

  6. Use a visual timer for transitions or breaks (time timer has a great app!)

  7. Watch for any warning signs that your child may give off in order to prevent total sensory overload by taking a break (go for a walk, have a snack, drink some water).

Enjoy the Fireworks

The day usually ends with a spectacular fireworks show. Not only can the fireworks alone cause sensory overload, but the show is typically after a long day of activities and past bedtime for most children. A fireworks display can overwhelm the senses of any child due to the loud noises, bright lights, crowds, "waiting for the show to start", lack of nap during the day, unfamiliar environment, being hungry or thirsty, and the fear of the unknown.

  1. Have a plan of action for leaving the situation.

  2. Prepare your child beforehand by showing them a fireworks video on the TV or your phone.

  3. Listen and acknowledge any concerns your child may have.

  4. Choose a location that is not as crowded.

  5. Bring noise cancelling earphones or ear plugs.

  6. Bring sunglasses, bug spray, blankets or towels, pajamas to change into.

  7. Bring a fidget or calming toys.

  8. Bring flashlights or glow sticks.

  9. Bring a weighted blanket if needed.

We hope these recommendations can help you look at 4th of July activities through the eyes of your child so everyone can have a fun and enjoyable holiday.

Happy Independence Day!


Coastal Connection blog post contributor, MOT, OTR/L

Kellie is the director of Occupational and Physical Therapy and has been with Coastal Pediatric Therapy Center since 2009! Kellie graduated with a Masters of Occupational Therapy from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She has evaluated and treated children with a variety of diagnoses including Autism Spectrum Disorder, brain injuries, Cerebral Palsy, stroke, fine motor delays and feeding difficulties. She is trained in Beckman Oral Motor and Sensory Integration. Her professional education includes courses such as Picky Eaters vs. Problem Feeders, Sensory Integration and Self-Regulation in the Infant and Young Child, Autism and the Military Child, along with many others.

Kellie strives to provide a fun learning environment, where children can happily engage in challenging activities to increase their confidence in their abilities. She helps children with a variety of fine motor, visual motor, sensory processing, feeding, and motor coordination needs in order for them to achieve success and independence across all environments. Kellie enjoys beach life with her husband, young daughter, and dog Duke. She likes coffee, jogging to the beach, and spending as much time as possible by the pool.