The holiday season is nearing its peak, and while this might be the most wonderful time of year for some people, it can prove nerve-wracking for many others. All of the lights, smells, sounds and crowds – in addition to the deviation from typical routines – can overwhelm children who experience sensory processing issues in particular.
If you’re the parent or guardian of a child who is hypersensitive to stimuli, there are fortunately certain steps and precautions you can take to make various aspects of the holidays – from meeting Santa to decorating – more enjoyable. Here are just a few tips for celebrating without stressing out children with sensory difficulties.
1. Search for a sensory-friendly Santa.
Typically, events that allow kids to meet Santa take place in malls and department stores, which are a sensory nightmare during the holiday shopping season and definitely not ideal for children who will be overwhelmed by bright lights and noisy crowds. Luckily, some pediatric therapy providers host Santa events specifically for kids with sensory processing disorder (SPD), according to Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers.
2. Steer clear of decorations that could overwhelm their senses.
Many people enjoy transforming their homes with holiday decorations, but this kind of drastic change can lead to sensory overload. To avoid stress for sensitive children, Hopebridge advises avoiding any decorations that might bother your child (e.g., ornaments that have bright, flashing lights or that make noise). Additionally, it helps to involve them in any changes you do make to your home, so the change to their environment isn’t a surprise.
3. Try not to change your child’s routine too much.
Celebrating the holidays often involves breaking from routine in various ways, like eating dinner much earlier than usual and having people over to visit. To avoid sensory issues, however, it helps to stick to your child’s usual patterns as much as you possibly can, according to Sensory Processing Disorder Parent Support. Let them know far ahead of time about any special events and changes to their schedule so they aren’t caught off guard.
4. Don’t bring them shopping with you.
Stores during the holiday season are typically very crowded, loud and stressful – making them awful places to be for anyone with sensory processing issues. Avoid bringing children with sensory issues shopping unless you absolutely can’t avoid it. If they want to be involved, buying online from the peace and comfort of your home is a good alternative.
5. Always have a quiet place in mind in case a situation gets too overwhelming.
If your child needs to get away from a stressful setting, it helps to have a room in your house or another sensory-friendly spot in mind where you can guide them. In the blog entry “3 Simple Tips for Actually Enjoying the Holidays with SPD Kids,” Kaylene George writes about her son that she will “prepare an escape for him if we are going to be somewhere stressful for a long time.”
Ultimately, if you follow these recommendations, the holidays will hopefully be easier and more relaxing for everyone. If you have any questions about how to help a child with sensory processing issues, our pediatric occupational therapists can help. Our pediatric professionals can create a treatment plan to assist with managing sensory input and stimulation. To learn more about our services, please call 847-707-6744 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.