December 18, 2015

Sensory Overstimulation during the Holiday SeasonThe holiday season can be a joyous time of celebration with family and friends. It can also be a very difficult time for children with sensory processing disorders. Parents often struggle to find a balance between traditional holiday celebrations and meeting the unique sensory needs of their child.

It is important to remember that the holidays are a time to cherish one another and to enjoy being together. Adapting celebrations in order to ensure your child with sensory needs is included and happy will guarantee the entire family has the chance to experience the magic of the holiday season.

Planning is Key

Planning and preparation is essential for a smooth holiday celebration. Knowing your child’s likes and dislikes, preferences and triggers allows you to plan for options that are desirable and enjoyable for your child. Always be upfront with your child about what to expect at each celebration and event. Trial runs or situations to practice for group celebrations will help your child feel successful and may increase their ability to participate.

Festive Foods

Many holiday celebrations are focused on food and the dinner table. This can be a great opportunity to educate your friends and family about sensory processing disorders. Often there are special meals or traditional foods that may be unfamiliar to your child. Tasting and practicing these new foods in advance will allow your child to know what they like and dislike. Always have a favorite comfort food available for your child, even if you have to bring it with you to a restaurant or friend’s home. Approach the presentation of new foods with a positive attitude, offering your child the chance to taste something new but always allowing them the opportunity to decline.

Joyful Noise

Holiday gatherings are often loud and can be over-stimulating, even for a child without sensory needs.  Finding a quiet place for your child to retreat will always be helpful.  At your home, set aside a quiet area with some of your child’s favorite activities, such as books, videos, or headphones with quiet music.  Before visiting friends and family, ask in advance where your child can go to get away from the noise and excitement.  If the weather cooperates, an outside play area might be the perfect solution.

Tinsel and Lights

Visual stimulation is often overlooked as a trigger for sensory overload. During the holidays, we frequently add festive touches to our homes with bright, sparkly décor and often include colorful blinking lights. Encouraging your child to assist with decorating can be a helpful strategy to prevent overstimulation, as well as allowing your child the opportunity to voice when there are enough decorations. Keeping some areas of the house untouched by holiday décor or limiting decorations to one room may be helpful.

Holiday Sweaters

Wearing holiday attire can often be difficult for a child with tactile sensitivities. Sometimes, advanced practice wearing a desired item can be helpful. Undershirts or camisoles can help with acceptance of a new shirt or blouse. Festive t-shirts and sweatshirts could be substituted for scratchy sweaters.  Ultimately, parents may decide to opt for every-day, familiar clothing items as an acceptable alternative to festive holiday wear.

Consult with your child’s occupational therapist for specific strategies to help him or her enjoy the holiday season. Have this conversation soon, so your therapist has time to problem solve and determine effective strategies for your holiday gatherings. While it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, try to remember to take time to enjoy the small moments. Finding a way to include your child with sensory processing needs in a positive way will bring joy and happiness to everyone involved.

Epic Pediatric Therapy is here to serve you and yours – contact us with for all of your therapy needs!