For most of us, the holidays bring joy and laughter. For children with sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory needs, the holidays can be an absolute nightmare! A child with SPD will have trouble receiving information that is coming through their 5 senses (or 6! if we count movement). Their brain becomes overwhelmed with processing all this information at once, which eventually leads to a giant meltdown. Children diagnosed with Autism or ADHD often have sensory processing issues; however, it can affect anybody! The shopping, the crowds, the lights, the never-ending Christmas tunes, and the strange visitors you haven’t seen in a long while…all extremely overwhelming!
Here are some tips for a sensory-sensitive holiday and to help your children enjoy this season as much as they can.
Prepare your guests for your child’s reactions.
If this is your first big in-person gathering since the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, it might be a little too much for child to handle. Keep in mind that their brains are trying to process as much information as they can and have too much stimulation all at once could send their system into overdrive. Let your guests know that your child might act a little different and help them understand that any “misbehaviors” might be a sign that their brain computer is getting too heated.
Create a calming space.
Whether you are celebrating the holidays in your home or out of town, it is important to help your child create a calming quiet space where they can be alone. You can come up with a codeword or signal to let you know that they are overwhelmed and need to take some space. This will also teach them to recognize their needs and to self-regulate before they go into meltdown mode. Bring your child’s sensory soothing tools with you if you are traveling out of town (ex. Glitter jar, slime, weighted blanket, etc.).
It’s okay to leave early or not participate in the festivities.
Your child might want to just watch from the sidelines this year. And that is perfectly okay! You might be excited to celebrate the holidays, but your child might not be ready to jump in. Do not force them to participate and it’s totally okay to leave an event early. You can also spread out the activities, so the holidays can last for several days or weeks rather than doing everything in one day. If you have to do it all in one day, maybe spread it throughout the day so you can give your child a break.
Bring your child’s sensory diet.
Food during the holidays might not be typical for your child. Consider bringing meals with them if you are eating out or going to someone else’s home to ensure they have something they are able to eat. Be flexible. This is not the time to work on exploring new foods.
Noise cancelling headphones.
Bring noise cancelling headphones even if you don’t expect the place to be loud. We never know what might happen. Someone could have a little too much to drink or there may be another child that is having a meltdown.
Try having a minimalist holiday.
Holiday decorations can be a little too much sometimes. Think about the flashing lights, strong smells, and loud noises. Perhaps having only a few decorations up and minimizing things with sounds or flashing lights can help prevent any potential triggers for your child.
Praise! Praise! Praise!
Don’t forget to give lots of praise/positive reinforcement when you notice your child is coping well or is trying something that is out of their comfort zone!
As always, thank you for tuning in! If you would like to speak about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy, reach out at 858-522-9415 for a free consultation today! Wishing you and your family peace and love this holiday.