Australia Day is a time for catching up with family and friends and attending community events, which often means crowds and fireworks. For some, these events can be a source of stress and worry about how their family members will cope.
Northcott’s Behaviour Support Team is very experienced in managing potentially difficult situations. Their starting point is always to be well prepared.
Follow our 10 key preparation tips when attending family and public events this year and ensure everyone has a much better experience.
Tip 1: Make your expectations realistic
Carefully consider what you are looking to do on Australia Day. If this is the year you are trying something new, acknowledge that it may not go according to plan. Remember, the main goal is about trying something new, or without being too cliché, it’s about the journey and not the destination! If success is dependant on everything going perfectly, it may be worth reconsidering your expectations for the day.
Tip 2: Prepare your child’s expectations
Once you have a clear idea of what you want to do, use social stories to outline the event and help your child to know what will be happening. There are guides of how to create your own social stories. Use YouTube videos and photos to explain what the environment and setting will look like, how the day’s schedule will unfold, and what your child can do if it becomes overwhelming.
Tip 3: Get a good sense of the environment before you go
It’s a really good idea to get basic information about the place you are visiting. Ask questions such as:
- How many people are going to be there?
- Where are the bathrooms?
- Where is the quietest space?
- If there is music, where is that coming from and where could you go if you needed to move away?
- If outside, will you be sitting on grass?
- If that is going to be a problem, what can you bring to sit on?
We suggest calling your host, or venue staff. For local events you can call your council and speak to the inclusion and accessibility liaison staff.
Tip 4: Power up your devices
Make sure you have some alternate activities for your child to do if they are no longer interested in the activities of the day. Bring festive colouring in, your iPad/tablet or phone – and make sure they are charged!
Tip 5: Bring your sensory equipment
Parties and events are often not ideal sensory environments, and can sometimes be full of triggers. Bring your twiddle toys, ear defenders, headphones, music, and weighted vests that can help minimise the impact of these triggers. You can find options from online stores like Sensory Tools.
Tip 6: Always have meals and snacks on hand
If your child has particular food needs, bring your own. At an outside event the food vans and stores may not be in an easily accessible space. Even if choosing to eat at the venue, bring a few things that you can snack on or that your child can eat while waiting for other options.
Tip 7: Plan your escape
Things don’t always go as planned, so keep in mind that a quick exit may be required. When scouting a spot at a community event, look for a spot away from the speakers and on the edge of the grounds. This will mean that in the event you need to leave quickly, you can get away with minimal hassle. Don’t rely on public transport if you can help it (which can be delayed or very busy).
Tip 8: Brief your friends and family
If you will be with friends and family, prepare them for what may be ahead. This will help everyone feel more comfortable. For example: if you’re going to a party, let your host know what your intentions are, e.g. “if it all becomes too much we will just slip out, I’ll call you tomorrow”. Where possible, if you are with numerous children perhaps ask someone else to be responsible for the other kids, e.g. “if we need to leave, we’ll walk to the car and meet you there, you bring everyone else”. Friends and family want to help but sometimes do not know exactly what to do, the more information and direction you can give them the easier your exit is likely to be.
Tip 9: Always have an alternative plan
You know your child’s limits as well as your own. After considering all of this you may decide that going out to a large party or community celebration may be unsuitable. Why not have a party at home in the backyard, whilst still maintaining your child’s safe space and access to soothing tools.
Tip 10: Think ahead for next year
During the event, take photos which you can use to support your child next year. Following the event, take a moment to reflect what went well, what could have gone better, and what you will change for next time.
Remember, if things don’t go to plan this Australia Day there will be many more chances to try again. Be kind to yourselves, progress isn’t always smooth: sometimes it really is two steps forward, one step back.