As the holiday season approaches, parents are faced with excitement and nerves. While it is a fun time of the year where kids can spend time with their families, it can be a stressful time for children with special needs. Some things to consider during this holiday season are how to help prepare your child for transitioning between different holidays and giving them an idea of what to expect. As we all know from this year, transitioning can be very hard especially for those kids who need a little extra help understanding changes to routine. Here are some strategies to help your child throughout this holiday season:

Putting out a visual calendar

This is critical for those who thrive off of routine and visual cues. A visual calendar can be very helpful in preparing the child for transitioning and helping them anticipate what is coming next. There are plenty of visual schedules to chose from. You can make it yourself, buy it in a retail store or online. You can customize your calendars with pictures of holiday characters, the child doing the activity, or a countdown until a certain date so they know what to expect. Get the child involved in making the calendar through taking pictures and allowing them to decorate it how they see fit.

Social stories

Social stories can be very helpful especially with children who have a hard time with changes and children with autism to understand what is coming next and how to prepare his/her body for it. You can ask your therapist for specific social stories and customizing them to fit your child’s needs. The social stories can range from holiday social skills to holiday dining etiquette.

Sensory strategies

While the holiday season can be very fun, it can also be overwhelming to those who have sensory processing disorders. While a feast with family is calming and relaxing for most, it can send some children into a “sensory overload”.  Having scheduled quiet time to allow your child to decompress from the extra activities and external stimuli that can be overwhelming (i.e bright lights, certain scents, loud noise/music, etc) can be a great way to include them and also allow them to get what their body needs. Also, having supports such as ear plugs, headphones, and a quiet room to retreat to can be great options to prevent them from  becoming overstimulated. For those who are “sensory seekers”, we recommend that you find activities that offer the child to move/carry something heavy or eat chewy/crunchy food to help calm their system down. Also, allowing the child to have “movement breaks” can help reduce their sensory seeking behaviors as well. Listed below are several options for sensory strategies to use during the day to help keep your child calm and regulated.

Proprioceptive:

  • Carry something heavy (groceries, a backpack with a few books inside, a watering can, stack chairs at the end of the day, carry the laundry basket)
  • Push or pull something (a stroller, moving chairs, a lunch cart, loaded wagon, a laundry basket)
  •  Wipe down the table or wipe the windows
  •  Crawl (through a tunnel, pretending to be an animal
  • Hand hugs
  • Joint compressions

Oral:

  • Chewing (ARK chewy items, gum, crunchy/chewy foods such as celery, carrots, apples, beef jerky, licorice, gummy bears, etc.)
  • Cold water through straw
  • Blowing bubbles

Vestibular:

  • Jump on a trampoline
  • Swing in a sheet (this could be great for siblings to help with!)
  • Bear walks (walking with arms on the ground, head down) or wheelbarrow walks
  • Hang upside down

Tactile:

  • Gentle, firm massage applied to the shoulders, head, arms, hands, and/or feet
  • Burrito roll up–wrap your child in a blanket (head exposed, not too tight)
  • Play with tactile materials that are messy, wet, or sticky (Play-doh, slime, water beads, wet sand, crafts using glue or paint)

Auditory:

  • Wear headphones, earbuds, or earplugs if noises are bothersome or loud noises are expected
  • Listen to quiet music to promote calm, or listen to upbeat or loud music to increase alertness

Visual

  • Decrease clutter or environmental business by putting things away or using storage containers
  • Monitor screen time with visually busy images and graphics
  • Utilize a sensory bottle

We hope these strategies help and that you have a wonderful holiday season,

Mallory Goettl MS OTR/L and Ellen Snyder MSOT OTR/L