I remember the first time I ever heard the word “Autism.” I was sixteen-years-old when the movie, “Rain Man” was released. I didn’t go to the movies to see it, but I did rent it on VHS from my favorite video rental store around the corner. I remember feeling deeply sorry for Dustin Hoffman’s character at first, but as the movie went on, I enjoyed his rigid, but subtle charm. The brilliant movie gave us a glimpse of the challenges experienced by autistic people and those who care for them. And despite the many stigmas attached to the disability, like many viewers, I was drawn to Hoffman’s character and I was genuinely rooting for his happiness. But once the credits rolled up the television screen, I wouldn’t mention the word “Autism” again, nor would I hear it again – until the year 2004.
It wasn’t until the sad passing of my son’s grandmother, that I realized what few resources were available to assist our family with explaining the loss to my son, Richie. Richie has autism and relies heavily on the use of pictures for choice making and requests, he also uses gestures and body language for expressing discomfort or happiness, and hand-leading for desired items or activities. Richie, at thirteen-years old, had never lost anyone close to him before. When his grandmother was in the hospital, his father wondered how we would explain this to him.
Each year, the Fourth of July holiday brings us together as a nation to commemorate our adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Many of us celebrate this patriotic holiday with picnic barbecues, trips to the beach, and the exciting views of the sparkling, shimmering and crackling sounds of bright fireworks. As a family, we’ve always enjoyed watching the fireworks, huddled together in silence and awe of the spectacular light show in the sky. It took years of trial and error to be able to continue this tradition with our son, Richie, who has autism, but absolutely loves all fireworks shows – despite the challenges he has to overcome. For many families of children with autism, the fun event is often cut short due to sensory melt-downs triggered by large crowds, smells, and long stretches of uneventful wait-times until the anticipated light show begins. Some children enjoy the visual effects, but struggle with the sound of crackling, loud booming explosives.
Create an Action Plan
We created an action plan that has been well polished over the years, as Richie’s sensory triggers evolved with time. Today, we continue to enjoy the mesmerizing light show as a family. We hope these ideas work for your family too!
Author: Christine Goulbourne