Help for Our Children with “Perceptual Challenges”
Eric Nach, Ph.D., M.Ed.
The holiday season can be stressful for our children, teens, and young adults with special needs. Traveling and visiting relatives and friends may interrupt their day-to-day routines and all the excitement can be overwhelming to those kids with “sensory” issues.
Follow some of these user friendly strategies to prevent holiday “blowouts” to help keep your kids feeling “grounded” and create happier memories this holiday season:
Schedule Time Reasonably
Too many events or activities grouped too closely together can overstimulate our child. Pick and choose which activities to participate in and don’t overload the schedule. Include private playtime or an outing to a child-friendly restaurant with a friend, to provide some one-on-one fun for our child. Also, spending some alone time in a quiet corner of the house or taking a short walk can be healthy proactive actions to head off a tantrum in our child.
Suggestion: If you’re planning to spend several days visiting a friend or relative, you may want to consider staying at a motel instead of sleeping over. This will give your child built-in breathing space. Explaining to family why you’re not taking them up with an offer to stay with them can help minimize hurt feelings.
Support and Reinforce Appropriate Behavior
Acknowledging and rewarding our child’s good behavior reminds him of his strengths and increases his confidence that he can manage whatever the holiday throws at him. Our child may become the hit of the party if they read a book of riddles to family members. They may want to do magic tricks or offer some other special interest to family and friends. Reminding a child of his past successes will set him up to succeed this year.
Take it OneDay At A Time
Parents need to be realistic. We know our children struggle with being our of their routine and many of the events associated with the holidays. Acknowledge each little victory and do not “throw the baby out with the bath water”. Accept that there will be some challenging moments, however, do not get stuck on them, move past them. Each success builds upon each other, do not negate the successes by focusing on the negatives.
Suggestion: Do Not Let A Bad Moment Ruin The Entire Day or Holiday
We know that many of our children struggle with sensory issues. Holiday lights, music, and smells can quite easily lead to meltdowns and tantrums. Understand that these sensory issues are very real and can change the physiology of our children for the moment. These sensory rich items can be physically painful.
Suggestion: Try not to under estimate the severity of sensory input and irritation. Little things like; earplugs, sunglasses, and nose plugs can be useful. Allow our child to voice when a sensory rich environment is impacting them. Parents that are extra observant of how our children are impacted by sensory stimulus can act proactively and not overreact.
Involve Our Child in Activities
Build happy memories by including our child to help cook the holiday meal, create and put up decorations, greet family or friends, deliver snacks or drinks, or wrap packages. Such activities strengthen the bond between our child, families, friends, siblings, and peers.
As all of our children are unique individuals, the suggestions made here should be adjusted to best fit your specific situation.