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Monday, December 22, 2014
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New Year's celebrations can be difficult for those affected by autism

Last Modified: Friday, December 28, 2012 9:19 PM

By Nichole Osinski / American Press

Celebrating the New Year with fireworks, music and crowds is a tradition often taken for granted.

Experts say that for a person with autism, this type of celebration can be stressful and unpleasant.

Due to heightened sensitivity, sights and sounds may appear several times louder or brighter for someone diagnosed with autism. But this doesn’t mean they can’t attend a New Year’s celebration.

Krystal McGuire, executive director of Autism Services of Southwest Louisiana, said planning is key when bringing an autistic child or adult to any event where there will be loud noises or bright lights.

“The first thing is communication with the individual,” McGuire said. “If it’s something that they have a tendency to react to in the past it’s important to prepare them and alert them. Once at an event, keep an eye on the individual for anxiety and have a quiet spot that they could go.”

McGuire said many of the individuals the organization works with have a difficult time being in crowds so the group always provides separate vehicles for those who want to leave. She has also seen some people with autism enjoy watching fireworks by wearing earplugs. One girl McGuire worked with was so sensitive to sounds that even the vibrations from speaking to her would hurt her ears.

“You’ll find that a lot of people with autism will stick their fingers in their ears, pace or start wringing their hands,” she said. “They do enjoy the lights and the festivities and just watching people. It’s not something they can’t do, you’ve just got to know your person and take precautions.”

Rachel Wright with the Saint Nicholas Center for Children said if an autistic child who has a difficult time with noise wants to attend a New Year’s event, then weighted or well-insulated headphones will help eliminate the effects of loud noises.

Wright recommended doing a test with a Roman candle outside to see how the child will handle the noise of the firework.

“Even though we don’t know the causes of autism, we do know that with children with autism there’s a higher correlation of sensory issues,” she said. “Kids across the spectrum have a different sensitivity to crowds and loud noises; some are able to tolerate it and like the visual display.”

This year, the Autism Services of Southwest Louisiana will host a party for adults with autism. McGuire said the low-key dinner at a home will offer a quieter environment for the adults to enjoy the holiday.

“I think that fireworks and social settings can be very good,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t push any child past their comfort level but I think that being together as a family and doing things together is what’s best for any child, especially a child with autism.”

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