Problems with your special needs child and big parades? Keep it UP!
July is great for recalling our amazing heritage in this choice land. I adore the patriotic and pioneer music, programs and parades.
However, there were many years when even attending a local Fourth of July parade with Miss Heidi, our cute daughter with Down syndrome and autism, was stressful. I loved the spirit of patriotism, seeing scalloped star-spangled bunting around town, and creating parade floats.
Our four daughters, in their new red, white and blue outfits, felt the excitement too. But our youngest, Heidi, who craved peace, quiet, and predictability, probably felt like she was entering a war zone, with random firecrackers, flashing police lights, and BBQ smoke from vendors. More than once, she darted off in a “parade panic” and our family (also in a panic) thankfully always found her.
Over the years, I’ve learned many terrific safety tips for parents, and several that need to occur before the parade. My cheerful theme song? “Keep it up!”
Team up: Many people with special needs experience high anxiety and impulsivity when overwhelmed, and resort to fight or flight mode. It’s scary having individuals, like my Heidi, unexpectedly dart off knowing when they finally stop running, they’ll hardly be able to say their name, let alone give personal information. While it may feel a little embarrassing, wise parents realize they need support from friends, family, trusted neighborhood watch groups, and local authorities to keep everyone safe. Start these conversations.
Speak up: When Heidi was a teenager, I finally took her photo to our sheriff’s office and shared our cell numbers and address. They appreciated my proactive connection. I indicated she had no fear of typical dangers, and may ignore their questions. I explained her attraction to water (ponds, pools and fountains), animals, and high places (like balconies and playground slides). This simple step was a real comfort to me, and a real help for them. Wish I’d done it sooner.
Print up: Some parents create a special T-shirt, identification bracelet, or dog tag necklace with vital information for their vulnerable children. Several choices are available, so tailor it to your needs. We invested in a sturdy metal bracelet for Heidi, because she’s so strong and would break pretty necklace chains. There are “buttons” that can be personalized then pinned on, or printed “safety” stickers.
Gather up: Parade morning is too busy to organize all your needed things, so a few days in advance, gather sunscreen, hats, medications, safety harness, bug spray, camera, extra undies/diapers, wet wipes, snacks, bubbles and umbrella. Be sure and freeze some water.
Power up: If your loved one needs batteries for hearing aids or power-generated items, like a wheelchair, make sure they’re juiced up in advance or pack spare batteries that are ready to go.
Buy up: Depending on where you sit along the parade route, the procession can take a while to arrive, and sometimes negative actions result. Previous to that, purchase a safe little toy or something appropriate to amuse your child while waiting.
Divide up: Consider possible parade locations carefully. If your special child will likely need bathroom trips or a shady quieter area, you may want to have one parent “stake your claim” early with camp chairs, rope, or a couple of old blankets.
Open up: Umbrellas are great for rain and shade, but another tip is blocking visual clutter. Super-excited children running around Heidi creates anxiety, so simply opening our umbrella in front of her while we waited for the pretty floats actually helped.
Link up: After the parade confirm your child’s safety harness is linked up, or “buddy up” to avoid separation. Having a pre-arranged meeting place if someone gets lost is smart. (Not the flag pole at the post office, because there may be several flags around that day.)
Break up: Breaking up the marathon into portions of quiet time somewhere or even at home, may help ensure everyone lasts through the BBQ and fireworks.
Cut up: At the family picnic or park, please remember hot dogs are the number one food that creates a choking hazard. Don’t let that spoil your holiday; please cut them into small pieces.
Fill up: Before any fireworks are lit, get a large bucket and fill it with water for dousing sparklers, matches, etc. Go over the safety rules and stick to them. Life-changing accidents can and do happen.
Light up: Sparklers can cause burned hands if not handled properly, so swap for Glow Sticks for a safe, inexpensive alternative.
Back up: Frequently, individuals with disabilities have hyper-sensitive senses. The noise of the exploding fireworks, and smell of the smoke creating watery eyes, while sitting in the “prickly” grass quite often is just too much. Consider moving into the house or your vehicle and watch the light show from there.
Follow up: It’s over, so try to rest the following day. Evaluate your experiences to adjust next time. Thankfully, these courageous children are growing every year with our loving guidance, and eventually we’ll come to even more mutual understanding and joy.
Chin up: Keep smilin’ and carry on! You’re a modern-day patriot, doing your part for God and country.
Pearson is a special needs preparedness specialist, author, and national speaker. Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org