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The Hood Magazine

Tips to Curb Overstimulation During the Holidays

Nov 08, 2022 ● By The Hood Magazine

By: LifeScape 

The holiday season is around the corner, and "it's the most wonderful time of the year" unless you have a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). While some families enjoy snowy mornings, days off from school, holiday parties, sweet treats, and less structure, parents of children with SPD know the holiday season can be a season of chaos, anger, frustration, and dysregulation. Even the most compliant and focused child can be "off" with the excitement of the holidays, but a child with SPD may seem even more out of sorts.  

Children with sensory processing challenges may seem more irritable, reactive, and less patient. Why? Routines are predictable, and the structure helps a child control their environment. An overstimulating, sensory-rich environment can be overwhelming for a child with a sensory processing disorder. An unexpected change in routine requiring your child to adapt quickly can be even more overwhelming, leading to an unexpected meltdown. 

A familiar structure and routine will help your child know what sensory stimuli to expect in a particular setting. Keep certain components of your child's schedule as consistent as possible through the holidays, like a consistent morning/bedtime routine. Parents should also review the daily schedule with their child and highlight any changes. Creating a visual schedule and talking about it that morning or the night before can be a very concrete way to help your child know what to expect. Well-defined expectations allow your child to know when they will have downtime, breaks, and opportunities to re-regulate, which is key for a child with sensory processing challenges. 

When it comes to public spaces, from long grocery lines to crowded malls, it can be overwhelming for children (and adults). If your child has sensory processing challenges, they might become extremely overstimulated by the sights, sounds, smells, and movements. For a child who is sensory defensive, or oversensitive, to visual, auditory, or touch input, large groups of people, loud noises, and unexpected touch can put an already oversensitive nervous system into overdrive and cause a fight or flight response (which can look like an outburst or tantrum). This reaction can easily be misconstrued as misbehavior, not listening or "poor parenting", as opposed to a reaction to sensory stimuli and overload.  

If you must bring your child to this type of public place during the holiday season, try to choose a time that is not as busy. Talk to your OT about tools that may be effective for your child to use in these overstimulating environments. This can include calming music through headphones, or a thick hat pulled over the ears (for auditory sensitivity), sunglasses, a visor or baseball cap (for visual sensitivity), fidget toys, sequin slap bracelets (for tactile seeking needs), chewerly/sugar-free gum (for oral seeking reactions) or other tools for increasing calm and promoting focus. Remember that not all tools work for all children, so check with your child's OT to see which strategies will be the best option for your child.