For “Sensory” kids – those with anxiety disorder, sensory integration dysfunction, learning challenges, ADD/ADHD, obsessive/compulsive disorder, high- functioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or other sensory challenges – this can be a time for year filled with uncomfortable experiences like changes in routines, lots of people visiting, and travel to unfamiliar places full of unfamiliar faces. As a professional home organizer and the parent of a sensory and a typical child, I know the importance of coming up with a few simple ways to provide extra support during the holidays to help your “sensory” child and the whole family enjoy the season. Pick the one or two things that are the hardest for your “sensory” child and create extra support to target those challenges.
Preparing for Changes in Routines
Preparing our “sensory” child for what is coming is a one way to support them in their day-to-day experiences all year round. This is especially true this time of year when there are frequent changes in their regular schedule. Create a visual support whenever possible before the change is coming. Explain in pictures and/or words the new schedule making sure to highlight what they have done before successfully or people that will see that they enjoy. Make sure to include a few options of what can be done when your child is overwhelmed or needs an break.
Visits and Interactions with New People
Spontaneous visits can happen very frequently this time of year. Try to set the expectation of more visits and social interactions. For younger “sensory” kids, try making a story about “People we see during the spring break and the holidays”. You can also talk about the social expectations of these visits in the book – saying “hi” and introducing yourself to the visitor. For older “sensory” kids, make a laminated sheet that explains what you expect them to do socially with visitors, how long they need to stay and “visit” and when they can go do their own thing.
Make Travel Easier
Again, preparation ahead of time is key to making holiday travel easy on yourself, your family and your “sensory” child. Give your “sensory” child a visual of where you are going via online sites, pictures of the family home you will be staying and the people you will be seeing. For younger sensory kids, make a trip book that explains what will happen during your travels. During your visit, set-up a space for your child that is their “escape and regulate” spot. It can hold the toys or things that are calming and relaxing for your “sensory” child.
Creating Routines during Vacation Week
The lack of regular structure during the holiday vacation time can also be a challenge for most “sensory” kids. Create a special calendar for vacation week and write in a loose schedule of what is happening. Have a list to the side of the calendar that will give your “sensory” child options of what you might do when during your free time. Be sure to write in the things that will hard for your child so the expectation is set and they will be prepared to be successful.
Take some of the stress out of the holidays for you, your family and your “sensory” child. Create a few simple supports to prepare them for new routines, to set expectations for frequent visitors and more social interactions, and to make holiday travel successful. Happy Holidays!