Crafting an Autism-Friendly St. Patrick’s Day Celebration in Virginia


Why do celebrations affect individuals with autism?

As St. Patrick´s Day draws near, family festivities can be a source of joy and a break from the everyday routine. However, for families with children on the spectrum, traditional celebrations may provoke anxiety instead of excitement. Understanding the unique sensory needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is essential to fostering an autism-friendly St. Patrick´s Day celebration without affecting your loved one’s sensitivities.

So, why do celebrations affect individuals with autism? Celebrations such as St. Patrick’s Day come with their own set of sensory triggers that could lead to stress and discomfort for some. From disruptive noises to the break in daily routine, every aspect of such events may disrupt their sensitivities.

According to a study by Pediatric Research in the context of autism, sensory processing is often atypical, meaning it differs from what is considered “standard.” For instance, an individual with ASD may be overly sensitive to certain sounds that others might not even notice, or they might not react to intense sensory experiences in the way one would typically expect.

In this blog, ABA Centers of Virginia explains how to include individuals on the spectrum in celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day and other special holidays by respecting their needs and creating a mix of creative and autism-friendly activities.

What Parents Should Keep in Mind Before Celebrations

Navigating crowded streets, loud noises, and unpredictable environments can be overwhelming for individuals on the spectrum. However, with careful planning and consideration, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day can be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Here are some essential factors for parents and caregivers to consider before embarking on festivities:

Know Your Child’s Sensory Sensitivities – Sensory sensitivities can vary widely among children with ASD. Some may be sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, or crowded spaces, while others may have aversions to certain textures or smells. Take time to understand your child’s specific sensory needs and plan accordingly.

Seek Quieter Zones and Bring Comfort Items – If you’re attending a St. Patrick’s Day event, look for quieter zones where your child can retreat if they become overwhelmed. Consider bringing noise-canceling headphones or a favorite comfort item to help your child regulate their sensory input.

Communicate Needs to Others – If you’re attending a celebration with others or visiting a public venue, don’t hesitate to inform friends, family members, or event staff about your child’s unique needs. Share information about your child’s sensory sensitivities, communication preferences, and any accommodations they may require.

Accommodate Food Preferences and Sensitivities – Many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations involve traditional Irish foods and drinks. Be sure to inform hosts or event organizers about your child’s food preferences and any dietary restrictions. Consider bringing along familiar snacks or meals to ensure your child has something they can enjoy.

Implement Visual Schedules – Visual schedules can help children with autism understand and anticipate the sequence of events during a celebration. Create a visual schedule outlining the activities planned for the day, including any transitions or breaks. Then, review the schedule with your child beforehand to help them feel prepared and reduce anxiety.

Let Your Child Decide – Empower your child to participate in decision-making during the celebration. Offer choices about which activities to engage in, what foods to eat, or when to take breaks. Giving your child a sense of control can increase their comfort and enjoyment of the event.

Monitor Your Child’s Comfort Level – Throughout the celebration, pay close attention to your child’s cues and monitor their comfort level. Watch for signs of sensory overload or distress, such as agitation, covering ears, or withdrawal. Be prepared to adjust your plans or provide additional support as needed.

10 Activities for an Autism-Friendly St. Patrick´s Day at Home

If, on the other hand, you want to adapt your home to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, at ABA Centers of Virginia, we offer the following ten activities filled with creativity but also designed to be sensitive to the needs of your loved ones with autism.

1. Sensory-Friendly Crafts: Set up a crafting station with materials like construction paper, stickers, and crayons. Encourage your kiddo to create St. Patrick’s Day-themed crafts, such as leprechaun hats or shamrock garlands. Ensure the materials are diverse in texture and color to cater to various sensory needs.

2. Leprechaun Treasure Hunt: Search online or design a treasure hunt around the house or backyard, incorporating elements of predictability and routine. Use visual clues or simple written instructions to guide your child to hidden treasures like gold coins or small treats. This activity promotes problem-solving skills and physical engagement.

3. Quiet Reading Time with Green-themed Books: Create a cozy reading corner with pillows and blankets. Select green-themed books or stories related to St. Patrick’s Day to read aloud or enjoy together silently. Reading can be a calming and enriching activity for children with autism, fostering language development and imagination.

4. Cooking Green Treats Together: Engage your child in the kitchen by preparing simple, green-themed snacks or treats. Recipes like spinach muffins, green smoothies, or fruit skewers with green grapes offer opportunities for hands-on participation and sensory exploration. Focus on simple tasks and provide clear instructions to facilitate independence.

5. Music and Movement: Create a playlist of Irish music or lively tunes for a dance party. Encourage movement and expression through dance or rhythmic activities. Consider using visual cues like colorful scarves or streamers to enhance sensory experiences and promote engagement with the music.

6. Nature Walk for Shamrock Hunting: Take a stroll in your neighborhood or local park to search for shamrocks or greenery. Encourage your child to explore the natural environment, observe different textures, and listen to the sounds of nature. Bring along a magnifying glass or binoculars for closer observation and discovery.

7. Virtual Parade Viewing: Explore online resources to watch virtual St. Patrick’s Day parades or performances from the comfort of home. Set up a cozy viewing area with cushions and blankets, allowing your child to enjoy the festivities without overwhelming sensory stimuli. Discuss the parade elements and encourage participation through clapping or cheering.

8. Quiet Retreat Space: Designate a calm retreat space equipped with comfort items like weighted blankets, noise-canceling headphones, or fidget toys. This space serves as a calming sanctuary for your child to retreat to if they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated during the festivities.

9. Green-themed Sensory Bins: Create sensory bins filled with green-colored materials like rice, lentils, or sensory beads. Incorporate themed props such as toy leprechauns, clovers, or gold coins for imaginative play. Sensory bins provide opportunities for tactile exploration and sensory integration in a controlled environment.

10. Virtual Social Gathering: Organize a virtual St. Patrick’s Day celebration with family or friends. Keep the gathering small and intimate, allowing your child to interact with familiar faces in a comfortable setting. Plan structured activities like sharing stories or playing virtual games to facilitate social engagement and connection.

Seek Expert Guidance with ABA Centers of Virginia

While festivities are valuable, adapting them to the needs of neurodivergent children ensures inclusivity and enhances the experience for everyone involved. With a bit of creativity and preparation, your St. Patrick’s Day can be a memorable event that embraces difference and champions diversity.

ABA Centers of Virginia can assist you during holidays and special celebrations. Our team of expert therapists employs ABA therapy to help children with ASD improve challenging behaviors and learn positive skills and capabilities. Moreover, we provide practical strategies to help our clients cope with their sensitivities.

Many families in Arlington and Washington D.C. have benefited from a scientifically proven and non-invasive approach to enhance day-to-day life and promote independence among children and adolescents on the spectrum.

Do not hesitate to call us at (855) 957-1892 or schedule a free appointment to explore how our skilled professionals can assist in making holidays—and everyday life—more enriching and less stressful for your family.

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