Managing Sensory Overstimulation of Children with Special Needs During Holidays

There is a lot of holiday hustle and bustle around the end of the year. From Thanksgiving straight through to New Year’s, it can be a time of more activities, get togethers, decorations, and events than many families see during the previous 10 months. This can be overwhelming for anyone, but particularly for children with special needs who experience sensory overstimulation.

Straying from their normal routine can be difficult for children to cope with, and sensory management is a must. Know your child and what their tolerance level is for different situations. Pay attention to the stimuli they are receiving and any signs of overstimulation so that you can intervene and help them feel calmer.

What Makes Holidays Overwhelming for Your Child?

Children with sensory processing disorder often experience stimuli to greater extremes than other people. The tag on the back of a shirt or seam on a pair of socks that you never think twice about can be very bothersome to them. The holiday season is full of sensory input that can be very overwhelming including things such as:

  • Twinkling bright lights
  • Caroling or holiday music playing
  • The aroma of meals
  • The scent of candles
  • Lots of people talking at once
  • The feel of different clothes if dressing up for events

All of these things and more can be a lot for special needs children to manage, and they may act out or have a meltdown in response. It is a good idea to have a plan in place ahead of time to cope with various situations.

Tips to Manage Holiday Overstimulation

If your child does have sensory issues, professional therapists can work with you to create a holiday survival guide that is tailored to your child’s needs. This can help you feel more prepared and allow your child and family to make the most of the holiday season.

Plan Beforehand: Sharing the Meaning of Holidays through Stories and Activities

New experiences can be overwhelming and make sensory management even more important. Instead of suddenly exposing your child to a meet-and-greet with Santa, a busy holiday party, or a Winter Wonderland event, prepare them ahead of time. Create social stories, read books, and talk about what they can expect to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. While you can’t anticipate everything, you can give them a better idea of what things may be like.

Create a Tranquil Space for You and Your Child

Scope out your surroundings and find a quiet place your child can retreat to if they need to unwind. When you notice such as becoming frustrated or irritated, acting out, being overly emotional, chewing on clothing or fingers, or even seeming to zone out and become less responsive, guide your child to somewhere safe and quiet. This could be a spare bedroom, the front porch, or a spot away from the center of activity. Let them look at books, play with a favorite toy, listen to music, or whatever helps calm them.

It can also be helpful to let special needs children wear clothing you know they’ll be comfortable in, even if others are dressing up or wearing something different. You don’t want your child to be miserable or frustrated over something that you can control. Or, bring something they can change into for a quick picture, then let them put their other clothes back on.

Manage Virtual Noise

To help quell sensory overstimulation, be aware of your surrounding and all of the auditory input your child is receiving. From decorations that make noise to music playing to people talking to the clatter of dishes, it can come from everywhere. Help your child with special needs find a space where they feel comfortable, and let them know it’s okay to take a break and come back. Educate your family or close friends about your child’s sensory needs as well, and that they’re not being rude or inconsiderate, that it is just a lot to take in and process.

Every child is different, and you know your child best, so find what works for your family. Even if you have to alter your plans, the most important thing is that you’re spending time together and creating memories. Being aware of sensory overstimulation during the holiday season can allow you to plan accordingly and feel more prepared for whatever may come.

The team at Therapeutic Movements can support you in learning sensory management techniques and figuring out how to best meet your child’s needs. Our services are tailored to each child’s needs, abilities, and goals to help them thrive, whether during the holidays or any time of year. Contact us today to learn more and find out how we can support your child.


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