New Year's celebrations can be difficult for those affected by autism

By 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.”