Well excitement will have been building, in schools across Ireland, over the past week for the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. For many people, especially children, the day is filled with the excitement of parades, festivals and activities. However, for the Autism Community the day can be stressful – significantly breaking with routine, attending parades which can bring sensory overload to a whole new level and being expected to interact with large groups of people.
These challenges can impact on the enjoyment of the day for Autistic people but can also make it hard for the rest of the family to enjoy the festivities.
We think St. Patrick’s Day is EVERYONE’s National Holidays so here are some tips to maximise enjoyment and minimise stress and discomfort
Do your research
There are literally thousands of events taking place across Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day – before you leave the house make sure you are selecting the one which meet you and your families needs? Don’t be afraid to get in touch with event organiser if you need more information. As well as knowing what the event is make sure you know what to expect- who is participating (e.g. will there be a noisy fire truck or men with scary masks?), what is the expected crowd? What has the event been like in the past? This information will make sure you can pick an event which suits everyone’s needs and interests
When you select what you would like to do, sit down and look at footage on YouTube of past events / activities – this will help you to know what to expect and to provide a “picture” of the day for everyone? If it is beneficial for someone in your family, prepare a social story. Before you go, make sure you know where you can access a bathroom and where you can park the car for a quick “getaway” if needed – remember failing to prepare, is preparing to fail
Pop on your sensory “armour”
There is no doubt about it – St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are noisy – you might need to pop your armour on! Think about the event you are going to and what might be helpful to you / someone in your family – do you have earplugs if its gets too noisy, would a fidget toy make the crowd easier to deal with, would shades or a baseball cap help? If you are going somewhere with lots of smells, is it a good idea to bring a smell or fragrance YOU like? Think about what might be useful – whatever it is, don’t be afraid to use it!
Do not be embarrassed and expect understanding
What makes us both sad and angry here at AsIAm HQ, is when people don’t participate for fear of being judged. Whether it is the adult who feels everyone treats them differently or the parent who feels that people stare if their child experiences a meltdown. This is your holiday too, be you and don’t be afraid what anyone else thinks! In fact, you should be able to expect additional help and support if needed – find out if there is a reserved area for people with disabilities. If there is, consider requesting access if you think it will provide you with more personal space, will be less noisy / stressful etc. Some people find it useful to wear their autism badge, sticker or wristband on days like today to maybe get people to think before opening their mouth – certainly don’t be afraid to ask for help or to put someone in their place who isn’t being helpful.
Understand a person’s “capacity”
Don’t push it. Maybe someone in your family find day’s like today really stressful but makes a valiant effort and gets through a major event, don’t push it by keeping stretching it out or doing more things! Know when someone has had enough and when it is time to call it a day – don’t keep pushing! Have a plan and stick to it and, if it gets too much,call it a day!
Divide the holiday up
The holiday is for the whole family and, for parents in particular, it can be hard to ensure a child with Autism’s needs are met without stopping siblings from enjoying the day. Be fair – can the family split up and half do one activity, and half another? Can the day be divided – doing what some people find enjoyable in the morning and what other people find enjoyable in the afternoon?
Remember there are lots of ways to spend the day – from watching Irish movies to arts/crafts or tucking into a “green, white and orange” meal – not everything has to be a busy, public celebration!
This weekend time is everything. When going to an event it is a good idea to show up in plenty of time to be able to pick your spot and not be walking into an enormous crowd. If you are an adult and want to enjoy a meal or a drink this weekend, think about what times are most likely to be busy and, if you don’t like crowds, try a pick a more manageable time based on crowds, event times etc.
Talk to other families
As always the best people to guide you this weekend are other families and individuals with Autism. What works well for them? What was disastrous last year? What event really went above and beyond to be helpful last year? So ask the question in your social media group or to your local support group – you won’t be disappointed! We would love to hear your experiences, good or bad, on social media also.
Find a positive experience
Try to make sure that, by Sunday night, everyone has a happy memory of the Festival. This means it will be easier to plan and prepare for next year.
Share your experiences
Did you feel let down? Do you think more could have been done to make your local events accessible/inclusive? Did you have a really good experience that you just want to say thank you for? Make sure you do! Write to event organisers after this weekend and share your thoughts, as a member of the Autism Community, on what worked, what didn’t and what you would love to see for next year!