Sensory issues affect an average of 1 in 20 children in the United States today. Children who struggle with sensory issues have trouble processing information received through the senses. For example, a child with a sensory aversion to loud sounds may cover his ears and hide from a noisy holiday party.
Connecting for Kids families who have a child with sensory issues report that some of the most difficult challenges for them during the holidays are:
- Dealing with Behavior Issues Resulting from Sensory Overload
(for example, when a child melts down at the holiday dinner table
because the noise, smells, tastes and even the feeling of his or her
clothes are just too much)
- Educating Extended Family/Friends Who Don't Understand (for example, dealing with a family member who is offended when a child refuses their hug)
- Providing Sensory Input Despite Routine and Environment Changes (for example, keeping a sensory diet while traveling)
If you are hosting a child with sensory issues for the holidays or looking for ways to make the season go smoother for your own child, our families suggest:
- Avoid Peak Crowds: Waiting for the mall Santa in a long line on the weekend before Christmas may be a recipe for disaster when it comes to sensory issues. Look for sensory friendly opportunities (many malls now offer "Sensory Santa," for example) or visit attractions before/after the crowded times. It may take a call ahead and a little planning, but making your child feel more comfortable will be worth it.
- Educate on Sensory Behaviors/Communication: Unless you have been exposed to sensory communication (for example, knowing a child who "hug-tackles" cousins because he needs the sensory input), it can be difficult to understand sensory-driven behaviors and even more difficult to respond positively. Communicating in advance with friends and family can help to make encounters a more positive experience for your child. If you're looking for help to talk about sensory issues, there are a number of books available (for example, "The Out of Sync Child") or try using a simple info-graphic, like this one.
- Expect Clothing Issues: For
children with sensory issues, finding clothing that feels comfortable
but still fits the expectations for holiday dress can be difficult or
even impossible. Stick to comfortable, preferred clothes whenever you
- Pack Your Sensory Diet: If you are
traveling for the holidays, make sure that favorite sensory items are
packed to go with you. Consult with your child's occupational therapist
for alternatives if a particular sensory item or activity doesn't travel
- Plan Sensory Safe Areas: As introduced in the Anxiety, Behavior and Social Challenges section, a safe area can give a child and his or her family a place to decompress away from sensory inputs that may be triggering overstimulation. Any quiet room, away from crowds and noise, will work. Or, if a room is unavailable, you could go for a walk, take a break in the car or hang out in the back yard. Sensory seekers may also appreciate ways to get input (such as an invitation to jump on the back yard trampoline or squeeze some Play Doh).