The Christmas season can be a stressful time for everyone, especially for our sensory kids.
The change in routine with breaks from school, hectic schedules, family gatherings, and other Christmas festivities can wreak havoc on fragile sensory systems. There are a couple of things that I recommend to families that may help calm the chaos for some of our kids.
I try to use my best suggestion with my own family: Make Christmas a celebration of a season rather than just one single day. Trying to cram a season’s worth of activities and family visits into one day can be overwhelming for anyone. Instead, try to spread out the cheer and family visits over the entire month. It often works out best for sensory kids to have individual days and times with each set of family members. When possible, provide your child with a family calendar with all activities for the month listed so your child knows what to expect.
Many cities now have Sensitive Santa events for children who are not able to tolerate the Mall Santa experience. Children’s Therapy Center, PSC is blessed to have a Sensitive Santa event scheduled for November 30, 2013. For more information, you can call our office at (502) 244-1210.
To prepare for Christmas day, read social stories and use visual schedules to allow children to visually process the sequence of events. Be prepared for food challenges by preparing and taking foods your child will eat rather than bombarding them with new foods.
When participating in large family gatherings, whether home or away from home, it may be helpful to prepare your child in advance for social interaction with adults. I find practicing preplanned scripts to be helpful for greeting adults the child may not see on a regular basis. Something as simple as “good to see you” can ease the interaction. Some children may also benefit from looking at pictures of family members and talking about names. I also recommend creating a reasonable time table regarding the amount of time you stay at large gatherings.
Some children may benefit from using noise cancelling headphones, taking a transitional item such as a blanket or a bear, or having a favorite movie on a portable DVD player or iPad. It may also be helpful to allow the child a quiet space away from the large group in order to get away from the bombarding sensory input.
Lastly, all children benefit from daily exercise. Planning scheduled movement breaks and implementing targeted and scheduled sensory input can keep all of our kids regulated. Most of all, try to maintain regular eating and sleeping routines. When out of routine, all children have difficulty, but sensory children are more sensitive to changes in sleeping and eating routines.
For information on specific sensory diet activities for your child, consult an experienced pediatric occupational therapist.
Have a safe, enjoyable, Merry Christmas.
From our family to yours,
Melissa Hough, OTR/L, C/NDT
Melissa Hough, OTR/L, C/NDT is an occupational therapist with over 20 years of pediatric experience and certifications in Sensory Integration (SI) and Neuro-Developmental Treatment (NDT). Melissa has a professional and personal perspective when working with children because she is also the adoptive parent of a child with special needs.
Since 2002, Children’s Therapy Center, PSC has served thousands of families in Louisville, Kentucky, by providing high-quality therapy services and parent education.