Pawprint, November 2014
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Therapist's Corner
Deanna Maciole

Making Your Holidays Merry, Bright, and "Just Right": Preparing Your Sensory Child for the Season

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

The holiday season is a time of increased activities, schedule and routine changes, and extra stress for many. As parents, teachers and therapists, we work hard to juggle life, make our activities and home festive, and carry additional obligations, sometimes forgetting how all the hustle and bustle affects children with sensory concerns. These children do not always find the "joy" in all the season offers. It is important that, as adults we remember to pay close attention to our stress level, so that we can help ease theirs. Although the daily calendar fills up, finding creative ways to utilize the sensory diet activities that have been recommended will be beneficial


When possible, pull your child into the preparations. Often times other therapeutic skills can be addressed as well, such as fine motor skills, handwriting, attention and sequencing.

  • Have them help with addressing and stuffing envelopes for holiday cards or even let them choose a few friends to send them to. Children can be especially helpful with putting on the stamps and address labels.
  • Allow them to be a kitchen helper, having them help bake and decorate cookies.
  • Let them assist with putting up decorations. Have an area or tub of decorations that are safe for them to handle and freely place.

Going to family functions and holiday events are not often fun for any child, but for children with sensory concerns, these outings typically increase their anxiety level. Help ease them through these events as best as you can.        

  • Discuss with them ahead of time details of the event (but just enough to not overwhelm them). Such as who will be there and what will be happening.
  • If there are sensory diet activities that are beneficial in organizing and regulation, do those before leaving.
  • Limit the number of people they HAVE to interact with. If there are special family members or friends, then make sure those people are a priority. As well, do not force your child to interact in a way that is uncomfortable, such as hugging or kissing someone. Let it be okay that they give a wave or a "high 5".
  • Allowing them to wait for awhile after arriving or spreading out greeting people can help with decreasing the overwhelming factor.
  • Find a quiet area that they can resort to for "re-grouping". Let them know that is their safe place.
  • Bring along activities that are calming, whether it be a stuffed animal, fidget toys, or an electronic device, these can help in the "re-grouping" process.
  • Often times oral input can be calming, so allow them gum to chew or a sucker to help keep them organized.
  • Known when it has been enough...and that is the time to head home.

For many, visiting Santa is a holiday tradition. But this can be a high anxiety moment for many. We have all seen those pictures of the child sitting on Santa's lap with a face full of tears.

  • Be okay that your child may not participate. Or that he or she may do it from a distance.
  • Many shopping malls now offer a special time that children can visit a "Sensory Caring " Santa. This is a time when they try to lessen the extra commotion for these children. In addition, many of them offer this before opening hours to lessen the crowd.

We want all children to enjoy the holiday season, so pulling in fun, creative ways can help.

  • When taking movement breaks or doing sensory diet activities, turn on the holiday music.
  • For those children who love tactile play, use food coloring in shaving cream or dye rice holiday colors for them to play in.
  • Get some extra oral input by using a fun holiday straw to drink from. Or use the straw to blow holiday shaped marshmallows to the finish line in a marshmallow race.
  • Spend some calming time in a dark room with just the holiday lights, reading, talking, or listening to calming music.
  • Get out and play in the snow- this is an all around sensory experience!

And when we get caught up in our "to-dos" we need to remember:

  • Many of the things we find important during this season are not important to them.
  • Be true to what you tell your child, if you are only going to an event for a short time, give them an allotted amount of time or an end time. And stick to it, so make it reasonable.
  • When making shopping trips, keep your list to a minimal when your child is with you. And to make it go faster, try and incorporate them helping.
  • Prioritize....take things off your plate when you are able to so that you have a few moments to enjoy the season with your loved ones.           
Most important, remember that is a time to make memories, so use strategies to help them, and in turn they will help you make your holiday season..."just right"!

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