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Holidays and Overstimulation

The holidays are here again, and for some of our friends, this magical time of the year can turn into a nightmare of overstimulation. We see all of our families and friends, we change our schedules, we decorate differently – even the scents of our homes change for the holidays. For a child that needs routine, this is a sensory overload!  Here are a three simple solutions you can do as a parent, family member, or even a host to help any child with sensory needs have a wonderful holiday season. 

1. Have a Sensory Calm Space Ready!  

A quiet space to calm down is an excellent addition to any holiday party, but especially when hosting a child (or adult!) with sensory needs. Holidays add a lot of smells, sounds, and sensations to our environment that aren’t the norm; this can overstimulate even the calmest child, and lead to them feeling like the Grinch trapped in Whoville! Keeping a room that has familiar comforts, like favorite blankets, toys and books, and low sensory input (low sound, low lights or controllable lights) will help anyone calm down when the Christmas cheer is overwhelming. 

2. Set the Routine Before the Party 

Many of our friends at APT function best off a schedule or routine, and any deviations can lead to a meltdown. No one wants to see the turkey tossed or the stuffing strewn about mid-meltdown! Give your child a schedule of what to expect. Explain that Thursday is Thanksgiving, a special day with a special routine, and have it written down for them to look over. Schedule in some regulation breaks for your child to rest and recover – the holidays can be hard! Having this schedule where the child can reference it allows them to feel more secure in the new routine, and can help them make it through dinner!  

3. Practice the Performance! 

Some holidays are hard to balance. With breakfast at Auntie Anne’s, lunch with the cousins and dinner at Grandma’s, the transitions and tight schedule might make it feel like there’s no room for a meltdown – which inevitably seems to cause one, doesn’t it? If you have a very tight schedule, practice the transition routine ahead of time to help your child understand! Use fun cues or make a game of getting ready in time. If your child doesn’t like timers, use games like redlight-greenlight; if they function well with choices, set out two choices of outfit the night before. Charge your electronics and make sure the car is prepacked the night before as well – having a soothing, familiar video or game is a great way to calm down between parties. 

More than anything – the holidays are supposed to be fun, a time for joy, celebration, and happiness. You know your child best – offer out the tools and tricks that help them the most to the hosts you’ll be visiting, so that everyone can be ready to make the holidays you celebrate special.  

– Ren Morgan OTDR/L, CLT