4 Sensory Strategies For Kids During The Holidays: When you have a child on the Autism Spectrum or a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, things may not go all that smoothly when schedules and the sensory world are upended during the holiday season.
In the United States, school is now underway and families are nestled back into their autumn routines. But just as soon as everything finally seems to be going smoothly, something hits. Stress levels increase and we find ourselves thrust back into the world of meltdowns, tantrums and sleepless nights.
And our kids have a rough time, too.
What am I talking about, here? I’m talking about the holiday season that begins in October (or September, depending upon your religion, if any) and lasts all the way through New Year’s Day. This time of year provides all sorts of “sensory soup” that tries the best of anyone who struggles with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
The aisles are crammed full of holiday things, speakers are blaring holiday sounds, and most of us decorate our homes. This means lots of changes in what our home looks like (these changes can be embraced or loathed), what our home smells like (think seasonal cooking, scented candles), and what our home sounds like (think music, animatronics) too.
Add this to family obligations, which range from large get-togethers involving extended family (and possibly sleeping away from home) to small gatherings consisting of just your immediate family. Dinner may be at 2pm or breakfast at 10am, which means disruptions to the daily routine. For someone on the spectrum, that thought alone can be unnerving. (Trust me – ask my college aged daughter!)
Many of us also have traditions that are very important to us and throwing a child on the Autism Spectrum or a child with SPD into the mix means things may not go all that smoothly when schedules and the sensory world are upended during the holiday season.
When this happens, you are more than likely faced with a crossroads. Do you do everything under the sun to “encourage” your child to cooperate and engage in these traditions? Or do you choose to be flexible, which means the image you have of the perfect holiday needs to be altered a bit?
Let’s look at a few examples, keeping in mind what we talked about regarding “sensory avoiders” and “sensory seekers” earlier this year.
4 SENSORY STRATEGIES FOR KIDS DURING THE HOLIDAYS
If taking a shower (and choosing what to wear) is nothing short of a long, drawn-out exercise in futility, consider putting your child through this process the day before, not the day of any big event, such as Thanksgiving Dinner.
In our family, my daughter still will not use a hair dryer: “Why would I set my head on fire and kill my hearing? So washing her hair is always done the day before. Does the tie your son wears at the family dinner make him feel like he’s being suffocated? Or does your daughter cringe at wearing anything involving tights? Consider working together to find a suitable alternative. Assuming you are not attending a club with a strict dress code (which does need to be respected), the fashion police aren’t going to cite you.
If dressing up is important to your family, work on choosing outfits a least a week ahead of time. (For girls, there are many beautiful dressy options out there that are soft and stretchy and even slip over the head, which has been a godsend for families such as ours.)
Make sure your child understands this is what we do as a family, and be sure they are comfortable in whatever it is they will be wearing. Be open to allowing them a say in choosing their outfit and be willing to give up in one area. (For example, skipping tights, skipping a tie or skipping whatever normally rocks their sensory world.)
In fact, it may not be a bad idea to tell them they need to dress a certain way but can choose to omit or add one item, such as ____ (fill in the blank with a few things they can choose from).
Set clear expectations ahead of time. Explain (without overdoing it) what the day’s schedule will look like, what the food will be like, whether sitting wherever they want is an option or not, etc. They may not be happy, but it’s better to get them thinking about it early as opposed to springing it on them at Grandma’s house – especially if at least one relative is refusing to grapple with your child’s way of interpreting the world around him.
Let your child know that good behavior means they will have something special for them when it’s over. For our daughter, this meant she would have a quiet place to go to for some much needed down time. For other kids, it could be anything from playing a game, reading, or hitting the playground. To be clear, we’re not talking about “bribery” here. We’re talking about providing balance in her life.
In other words, this Mom’s opinion is that is perfectly ok to expect your children to participate in special traditions, but it is also imperative to factor in their sensory world and their need for order into the process and make tweaks along the way. Doing so will result in a calmer, happier celebration.
Will things be perfect? Maybe, maybe not. But let’s move away from the concept of “perfection” and move forward to creating memories that we will all look back on and enjoy. Think about it. When you look back years from now at a family portrait taken on your special holiday, do you want it to look like a storybook family, or your very own family, quirks and all? As for me, I’ll take the quirks any day of the week.
Have a happy holiday season!
Want to read more articles about children with Autism and SPD?
- Helping With School Anxiety In Children
- Telling Your Child They Have Autism
- Sensory Difficulties At Sporting Events
- Indulging Special Interests for Children