Let’s face it — the holiday season can be emotionally taxing for folks of all ages. Filled with out-of-the-norm activities like gift shopping, visits with relatives, holiday travel, disrupted routines and the like, this time of year can especially offer its share of challenges for individuals on the spectrum for sensory challenges. Sensitive children can face even more difficulties, but fortunately, family and friends can play an important role in helping these kids have a positive holiday experience.
Here are 4 things to consider.
Plan ahead. If you have a sensitive child, and family reunions, gift shopping trips, holiday travels, or other big activities are on the horizon, start introducing that information to your child well advance. Talk about the things that are likely to take place, role-play what appropriate responses are, and help your child view the festivities as something to look forward to. If you are able to frame holiday activities in a positive light, there is a greater chance they will be for your child.
Stick to routines as much as possible. Like all of us, young children and sensitive kids do best when they get a good night’s sleep, eat well and are in their comfort zone. To the best of your ability, try to keep to your regular schedule, even during Christmas vacation. If your holidays include travel, look for those everyday activities like reading at bedtime, you can maintain regardless of your locale.
Take advantage of opportunities. Particularly if your family has more time together than usual, use the occasion and built-in holiday activities to work on your child’s skills in a positive way. Your child’s specific situation can help dictate your activities. Making ornaments and decorations, writing or coloring Christmas cards and helping with holiday meal prep are all examples of helping sensitive children feel like they are an important part of the fun.
Communicate with friends & families. In addition to role-playing with your child in advance of holiday activities, ask those you’re celebrating with, to be aware of your child’s special needs, and to work with you to make it an enjoyable event. That might mean relatives who enjoy bear hug-sized greetings shake hands instead with children who dislike close contact with others. It might dictate quieter music in the background, less frenetic activities or a willingness to allow the sensitive child to deal with the overall surroundings in ways they feel comfortable with.
The SensorySmarts website has a great document with lots of suggestions on ways to help sensitive kids enjoy the holidays. Thanks too, to Theraplay’s Jeanine Morton’s suggestion that led to this week’s feature article.