Holiday Overload - Sensory Integration
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Winding down 2009 often leaves children with sensory issues wound up like an old-fashioned wind-up toy. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, and New Year’s are filled with bright lights, loud music, sounds, textures, colors, and many other things to throw children into sensory overload. Holiday programs in schools and churches, crowded stores, a frenetic schedule and abundance of sugary treats can prompt a Chernobyl-like meltdown. Here are a few tips to help parents manage all of this, and still manage to enjoy the season.
Pack earplugs or earmuffs. Even adults can be over-stimulated by all the noise of the holidays. For children with sensory issues, the charming Lionel train under the flashing tree can be like standing in an Amtrak station. Have a supply of ear plugs handy that your child can quickly slip in when feeling overwhelmed. If your child finds ear plugs an irritant, try ear muffs or even a headset or MP3 player with soothing music.
Have an escape plan. Watch for warning signs that your child is becoming over-stimulated and be prepared to make a speedy exit if necessary. Simply finding a quiet corner or room to allow your child to decompress may be all that is necessary. In other cases, you may need to leave and head home. Agree on a code word or gesture to indicate that it’s time to leave. If family and friends are sympathetic, warn them ahead of time that you may need to leave abruptly or head to a quiet area.
Allow for quiet time each day. By the time a child with sensory issues has gone from school to after-school swimming lessons to a fast-food dinner and on to the neighbor’s holiday bash, he could give “Party-Pooper” a whole new meaning. Work in some quiet time each day and allow for ample transition time between activities. If structure is important to your child, be consistent in terms of the time and location for quiet time so your child can anticipate freedom from sensory overload.
Keep sunglasses handy. Bright lights and colors can be overwhelming and give anyone a headache. Children with sensory issues may respond to sunglasses to help cut down on some of the intensity of the colors or lights.
Bring comfortable clothing. Fancy holiday attire may look nice in the family photo, but may not be worth the price of the tantrum which accompanies that scratchy taffeta dress. For professional holiday portraits, dress your child in full holiday garb upon arrival at the photography studio. When it comes to parties, visits with Santa, or other celebrations, pick your battles. Nobody will really care that your six-year old is wearing sweat pants to see The Nutcracker.
You know what your child’s issues or triggers are. Try to come up with a plan to combat those before the holidays are in full swing.
(This article first appeared in the Winter 2009 Edition of the Sunburtst News - pdf )