As always, the holidays are sneaking up on us. While things might look a little different this year because of social distancing and COVID-19, many families are still preparing for the holidays and fun filled times with loved ones. When it comes to preparing for the holidays with a child with special needs or a sensory processing disorder, there are a lot of things for parents to consider: food menus, large crowds, loud gatherings, traveling, and lots more. When preparing for the holidays it is important to know the signs of a sensory overload and also ways to help in those moments. Keep reading to find out some PediaPlex approved tips!
Signs of Sensory Overload
A sensory overload typically occurs when something around us, such as a loud noise or a smelly meal, overstimulates one or more of our senses. All children (and even adults) can experience sensory overload, so it is important to understand the signs so that you can respond appropriately and lend a helping hand for your child or loved one.
Aggressive or Heightened Behavior: If a child is hitting, pushing, or biting themselves or others they might be experiencing a sensory overload. Less aggressive signs of sensory overload can include running around the house, spinning, or jumping off the furniture.
Frequent Meltdowns: You know your child, so you know what is a normal amount of meltdowns for them. If they are crying, throwing themselves on the ground, or screaming more often than normal then they might be experiencing sensory overload.
Refusal to Participate: When a child is frustrated and overloaded, they might withdraw from what is going on. They might refuse to participate in whatever is going on or choose to do something separate from the group by themselves to give themselves a little break.
Sensitive to Noise: If a child is experiencing a sensory overload, they might be extremely bothered by noises around them. To drown this out you may see them cover their ears with headphones or their hands or even scream and make other loud noises to drown out the other sounds that are overloading them.
How to Help
When a child is experiencing a sensory overload, it is important for you to know how to help them in that moment. Because every individual is different, we want to share with you a couple different tips to help your child in these moments as well as some tips to help before the meltdowns start.
Go Over Calming Strategies: You can do this with yourself, your kiddo, your family, whomever. The more people who know how to help keep your child calm, the better. Make sure you know ahead of time what you plan to do and where you can take your child to help them get away from the overwhelming noises.
Learn About Sensory Needs: You’re doing this one now- which is great! Continue to learn about the different senses and how your child might be challenged by them at different times of the year. The more you know and understand is the best way to start preparing for the holidays!
Practice Early: We highly recommend practicing early for your holiday dinners and there a few ways you can do this. Try doing a test run of the foods you will be having so that your child can try tasting them ahead of time. This will minimize the chances of your child feeling overwhelmed with the new foods and help you know which ones you can and cannot serve your child.
Sensory Kit: Sensory kits are great to keep on hand with you at all times! Grab a small backpack and toss in some items that you know help calm your kiddo down. Items to include are earmuffs, small fidget puzzle, stress ball, or chewies – but you’ll want to include whatever is best for your child.
Visual Schedule: These are always extremely helpful! The use of a visual schedule helps your child to know what is coming next during their day. You can use them with social stories as well so you can walk your child through your holiday events and help prepare them early. Children love having a routine to follow so providing them with a schedule with help prepare them for any changes in their normal day-to-day! Check out this great example to use this Thanksgiving!
The holidays can be tricky- but they don’t have to be! Follow our steps to help your child before and during their sensory overloads.
If you are concerned that your child might be experiencing sensory overloads often, you should consider occupational therapy at PediaPlex. Our team of OT’s can perform an evaluation and help provide a plan of care for your child. Give us a call today! We’d love to help!
-The PediaPlex Family