The holiday season is already upon us, and if you’re like me, you are already planning how much tacky holiday apparel is appropriate to wear during the entire holiday season. For some people, the holidays are full of joy and whimsy. For others, however, the holiday season feels overwhelming, unpredictable, and stressful. For families that are parenting a child with exceptional needs, the stress of the holiday season can be further exacerbated by changes in routine, unexpected visitors, and increased sensory stimulation.

Here are some tips for how to survive this holiday season without hitting the deck all together!

Consistency & Routines
  1. Attempt to keep as much consistency in your child’s schedule as possible. This becomes especially important while traveling; try to be consistent with your child’s routines, even while they are visiting relatives or new places.
  2. Use visual schedules to help prepare your child for what to expect each day.
  3. Use a large, visually displayed calendar to outline unexpected events for your child. For example, to help prepare your child for holiday guests, put a picture of the guests or family members who are visiting on the calendar on the specific date of their arrival
  4. Plan for additional rest time. Build additional rest times into the daily schedule.
Regulation & Sensory Considerations
  1. When traveling or visiting new places, plan to bring a backpack of regulating tools for your child to use. These items can include sensory fidgets, calming blankets, weighted items, chewy tubes, books, or calming music.
  2. Incorporate activities that meet your child’s sensory needs into your holiday activities. For example, rolling cookie dough with a rolling pin is a great way to provide calming proprioceptive input for your child. Using fake snow to create a flocked holiday tree could provide calming tactile input into your child’s hands.
  3. Incorporate heavy work into your child’s holiday routine. Heavy work involves activities which provide deep pressure input into muscles and joints and is often calming to the nervous system. For instance, have your child help carry heavy gifts into the house, stack furniture to prepare for visitors, or perform holiday-themed animal walks around the house. Click here for more information on Heavy Work!
Family Matters
  1. Provide education to your extended family about your child’s sensory differences. This will encourage their understanding of the types of supports or adaptations which will help make this the most successful holiday ever for your child.
  2. When visiting friends or family, find out in advance if there is a space available in their home where your child can go if they feel overwhelmed. Let your child know of this space in advance.
  3. Put up your holiday decorations slowly. Allow your child to be a part of this process.
  4. Don’t substitute the presents for the presence. Be present with your children. Be supportive. Be encouraging. You are their teammate. Your presence is the single most important way to help your children successfully deck the halls instead of hitting the deck!

Happy Holidays from Emerge Pediatric Therapy!



Blog Post by Nicole Kristal, M.S. OT/L

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