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Preparing for an Autism-Friendly St.Patrick's Day 2024

St Patrick’s Day is a great way to spend time with our friends and families and celebrate being Irish, yet some of the day’s best-known features can be challenging for autistic people. Sensory overload is a risk in the middle of a crowded and colourful parade, making it hard to use typical calming techniques. 

There are solutions and strategies available to make the best of the day’s celebrations. St Patrick’s Day is a holiday for everyone to enjoy and it can be a positive experience for autistic individuals and their families with the right preparation in place. Check out our list of things you can do to have an autism-friendly St Patrick’s Day. 

Lá Fhéile Pádraig faoi mhaise daoibh!

Do Your Research

There are thousands of events going on for St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Before you leave the house, make sure that you’re choosing the one which meets yours and your family’s needs. Get in touch with the organisers if you need more information. As well as knowing what the event is, ensure that you know what to expect – who’s taking part? What’s the expected crowd? Where are the main attractions? How have past events like it panned out? Will you need to bring anything with you? This year, the parade will feature a relaxed space in the first ever autism-friendly St Patricks parade. If you are looking for ways to explain the day to a loved one, we have prepared a visual communication guide here.

Covering your bases by asking such questions will ensure that you can confidently pick a festival or parade which suits everyone’s needs and interests.

Be Prepared

If available, once you’ve picked where you’d like to go, check out photos and videos of past events and activities. This is will give you a heads up of what to expect and provide a clear picture of what’s meant to happen.

Prepare a social story if you think it will be beneficial. We’ve put one together for the day which you can access here.

Before you go, make sure you know the venue’s layout. Make note of spaces which will have crowds, where the restrooms are, the exits if you need to make a quick getaway, if needed.

Put On Your Sensory ‘Armour’

There is no doubt about it, traditional St Patrick’s Day celebrations are noisy, so you might want to pop your armour on! Think about the event you are going to and what might be helpful to you or someone in your family. Do you have earplugs if it gets too noisy? Would a fidget toy make the crowd easier to deal with? Would shades or a woolly hat help? If you are going somewhere with lots of stimulants, is it a good idea to bring something to calm yourself?

Think about what might be useful – whatever it is, don’t be afraid to use it!

Don’t Feel Embarrassed

It’s perfectly normal to feel self-conscious and even embarrassed if something, like overstimulation or a meltdown, happens. Whether it’s an adult who thinks that everyone nearby is treating them differently, or a parent who can feel people staring if their child is having a meltdown.

This is your holiday too – be you and don’t be afraid of what anyone else thinks! You should be able to expect additional support if needed. Find out if there is a reserved area on the day for people with disabilities. If there is, consider requesting access if you think it will provide you with a space to calm down or centre yourself. Some people find it useful to wear a badge, sticker, wristband or autism ID card on days like St Patrick’s Day which alerts other people of their needs. 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 & Needs

Know someone’s limits and when they’ve had enough. For many autistic people, days like St Patrick’s are occasions where they put a lot of effort into tolerating tough situations for their friends’ and families’ sakes. Don’t push them to put up with more than they’re able to. Listen to them when they tell you that they’ve had enough and want to leave. Be ready to call it a day and be understanding of their feelings. Don’t make them feel guilty about it, or let other people do it.

autism st patrick's day
Source: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

Divide The Day Up

The holiday is for the whole family and, for parents in particular, it can be hard to ensure an autistic child’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, to attending a talk or recital, or tucking into a “green, white and orange” meal – not everything has to be a busy, public celebration!

We have prepared a number of St. Patrick's Day activities which you can access here.

Be Timely

Time is everything this weekend. It’s a good idea to arrive before the event you’re attending starts to pick your spot and avoid the crowd’s hustle and bustle.

If you are an adult and want to enjoy a drink out 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.

Autism St. Patrick's Day
Source: Getty Images

Talk To Other Families & Autistic People

As always, the best people to guide you this weekend are other families and autistic individuals. What works well for them? What was didn’t go well 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 & Share It

Did you feel let down? Do you think more could have been done to make your local events accessible and 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 St Patrick's Day!

Look After Yourself

Don’t leave the house without charging your phone to 100% and make sure that your family and friends have your number on hand. If you’re splitting up during the day, agree a location and time for where and when you can meet up again later on.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed in any way, explain to the people whom you’re with how this is impacting you and leave as soon as you can.

Be careful if you’re going to be drinking alcohol. A lot of people will be drinking throughout the day and may be louder than they usually are. Agree on a bar to visit with your group before heading out and have back-ups in place if it’s too full. It’s advisable that you don’t go to a bar on your own and stick with your friends at all times.

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