It’s November and trees and decorations are popping up in shopping centres. You may have heard the occasional carol playing too. You know what this means… Christmas is coming! For many people, Christmas lights, carols, delicious food, colourful decorations and lots of social events are some of the best parts of the Christmas season, but for children who have sensory challenges, these things can be a recipe for sensory overload. If you know that your child has difficulty coping with a lot of sensory information and may be prone to meltdowns, the following tips may assist your family in planning for and managing the festive season.
- Consider when and where your child may be exposed to new sensory information: Sensory information includes visual, auditory, tactile, oral, gustatory, vestibular and proprioceptive input that our brains need to process. For example, carols, lights, decorations, people talking loudly, new and unusual foods, smells, clothing, toys and people. Talk in advance with your child about what they might expect.
2. Think routines: many children thrive on routine, so the Christmas season can be challenging when routines tend to go out the window. It is best to plan ahead and consider what parts of your child’s routine could be kept on Christmas day. Try not to pack too many activities into Christmas day and do not feel bad saying NO to things when you know it will be too much for your family. It can be a good idea to ask each person in your family what Christmas activities mean the most to them and focus on these.
3. Make the day as predictable as possible: Make a visual Christmas day schedule with your child so they know what to expect on the day.
4. Sensory diet: Incorporate sensory breaks for your child with sensory tools that they would normally use to stay regulated. For example, noise-cancelling headphones, chewable toys or necklaces, fidget toys, visual toys, blowing bubbles, tight squeezes, stretching, moving, or carrying heavy objects. Provide a safe and quiet space for your child to retreat to when things are becoming too much.
5. Provide foods that are familiar to your child: manage hunger by reducing the pressure for your child to try new foods and provide safe options that you know they will eat. Alternatively, you could try new Christmas foods leading up to Christmas, so that they are familiar on Christmas day. Crunchy foods can be a great addition to a sensory diet for some children.