For many of us, the Christmas holiday season is the happiest time of the year. It’s a time to celebrate with family and friends, to give and receive gifts, to sample delicious baked treats and enjoy the beauty of holiday lights, decorations and caroling. But for children with sensory processing disorders, Christmas can present significant sensory integration challenges. Here are some steps that will help make the holidays happy for every member of the family.
Turn down the lights
Though most children with sensory processing disorders enjoy the stimulation they receive from music and colorful, flashing lights, the holiday season may offer too much of a good thing. If you’re planning a trip to a Christmas lights display in your neighborhood, prepare your child in advance, and don’t over-do it. Make sure your child is well-rested and well-fed before making the excursion and set a time limit that takes your child’s sensory needs into account.
Beware of crowds
During the holiday season, we are more likely than ever to encounter large groups of people. Whether it’s holiday shopping at the mall, or attending a party or family gathering, large crowds can be overwhelming to children with sensory processing disorders. If you must take your child shopping, choose times when the stores are likely to be less crowded. Some malls are even designating certain shopping hours for families with children with sensory challenges. Likewise, when attending a big party, make sure you leave before your child becomes tired and over-stimulated. Bring along some of your child’s favorite toys or videos, and make sure there’s a quiet place where he can unwind if he needs to take a break from the action.
Lower the volume
Holiday music, Christmas carols and large groups of people can be too noisy for many children with sensory processing disorders. Noise cancelling headphones can make the difference between a child who’s having a melt-down and a child who’s enjoying holiday activities.
Respect your child’s tactile sensitivities
Sure, it’s disappointing when your child refuses to wear the special holiday outfit you’ve purchased for family photos! But forcing her to wear clothing that makes her physically uncomfortable is a no-win situation. Instead, choose an outfit you know she’ll enjoy wearing, even if it’s the same one she likes to wear every day.
Some children don’t like to be touched — especially by people they don’t know. Never insist that your child receive a hug or a kiss from a friend or relative against his wishes.
Whenever possible, stick to your child’s schedule
Many children with sensory processing disorders thrive on routine. But during the holiday season, routines are much harder to follow. While some flexibility is necessary, your child is likely to be a great deal happier if you adhere to his routine. For example, on evenings when no parties or family excursions are planned, follow his normal bedtime routine. Likewise, attempt to maintain your child’s usual diet and do your best to prevent her from binging on too many sweets.