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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Get Ready...the Holidays are Here!

Sensory Smart Holiday Hints

The holiday season is a demanding time for everyone, including children, especially children with sensory issues.  Parties, concerts, school plays, Christmas card pictures, Breakfast with Santa, shopping, decorating and wrapping presents are just a few of the demands that get all of us STRESSED OUT!  Add to that the demands for “best” behavior and you will definitely need cocktails, me time, prayer or all three to recover from this jolly season.   :)

Happily, there is so much you, a sensory smart parent, can do to help~

Get ready!
Kids who struggle with changes in daily routines do best when prepared in advance. Well before any special occasion, discuss what will happen before, during, and after the big day. For example, if you are going to Grandma’s house for the holiday, review what to bring, what to wear, who will be there, and the general sequence of events. You can explain why we celebrate Christmas using picture books if that helps. Mark off days on a calendar as the event approaches. By reducing unwelcome surprises, your child will be better able to predict what will happen next and be more empowered to organize his behavior.

 During any school vacation, try to stick to a normal schedule like having the same bedtime and wake-up time each day so you don’t disrupt your child’s sleep-wake cycle. This is especially important for a child who tends to be a problem sleeper. Of course, if you are taking your child to an evening celebration, your ability to control this may go right out the window. Your child may stay up much later than usual, and either awaken at his regular time skipping several hours of sleep, or sleep late and miss out on several hours of daytime activity. If your child’s sleep schedule is disrupted, get it back on track by readjusting it bit-by-bit, making bedtime 10 to 15 minutes earlier each day.

The holidays are a great time for working on fine motor skills. Enter the name of the holiday into your computer browser to find holiday themed activities such as dot-to-dots, mazes, crossword puzzles and more. If your child needs handwriting practice, have him/her write place cards if it’s a big sit-down meal. (or draw pictures for younger ones) This will also help your child anticipate who will sit next to her, and review what she might discuss during the meal.

Making holiday decorations can help your child feel more engaged in the celebration. Children of all ages love making snow people by gluing together Styrofoam balls with the tops cut flat and adding a felt face with wiggly eyes, carrot stick nose, and so on. Kids also love to glue large sequins or buttons onto a tree cut out from green construction paper or felt as well as make their own tree ornaments. Your child could also can make a gingerbread house with you or christmas ornaments for the tree.  You will find plenty of easy craft ideas in holiday season magazines, especially those geared toward kids.

If your child dislikes getting messy, use the tactile desensitization techniques your OT shows you so your child feels more comfortable touching “yucky” materials. If your child hates touching mushy wet textures, provide a longhandled paintbrush and vinyl gloves. If your child insists on washing hands every time he gets a speck of paint or glue on them, try to keep a damp sponge or paper towels nearby so your child can wipe off the mess without totally disengaging from the activity.

Cooking is also a wonderful sensory experience that lets your child participate in holiday preparation. Ask your child to help you write the shopping list. Go to the supermarket when it’s not too busy and have your child help you find things on the shelves. Try to not take your child to the supermarket if you are in a rush or it’s the busiest time. All of the stimulation of the food, lighting, shopping carts, and people may be tolerable only when you and the store are calm. At home, let your child help you pour, mix, blend, and decorate holiday food. Even if you’re going to someone else’s home to celebrate, you and your child can prepare a special side dish or dessert to bring along.

When gift shopping, shop when stores are less crowded or shop online. If you MUST take your child into busy stores, plan ahead and bring sensory comforts such as chewing gum and other oral comforts, earplugs or favorite music with headphones, a baseball cap or visor to protect sensitive eyes from downcast lighting, and so on.

Finally, just because everyone plans to dress up for the holidays doesn’t mean it’s worth forcing your child into clothing that will make him miserable. Scratchy lace and bows on party dresses may be intolerable. Your son may be unable to handle a tie and dress shoes. But you never know, your child may love putting on a special outfit for a special occasion. Before the event, try on any new clothes and bring a change of clothing just in case. Or opt for clothing you know your child wears happily even if it’s simply what he wears every day. As always, the key is to be flexible!

Very best wishes for the holidays!

Pregnant with Luke at Disney
Adapted from the November-December 2010 issue of Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine

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