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Christmas and the Sensory Child

Over the festive period, some of our children will find it particularly challenging in the areas mentioned below.

First we have the sensory seeker who has a heightened need for sensory input or they will even seek out sensory experiences in order to fulfill this need ie seeking loud noises, fast movements, strong smells or tastes and even bright lights. To help, try some calming activities or heavy work which will help the vestibular and proprioceptive system (see at the end of the page).

Different routines at this time of year also increases a child’s anxiety as they enjoy set routines. It can also upset sleep patterns. Try a daily visual timetable or social story.

Different foods – sensory seekers may seek specific smells and tastes to help their sensory system. An avoider will not want to be near these smells as they will find it overwhelming! It can also mean they will not want to participate in any parties or family gatherings.

Transitions can also heighten a child’s sensory system. At school, many different new activities will be going on and when home, visiting family and friends. At home they are used to their own environment which is a comfort but then visiting others can present as overwhelming with the new sensory stimuli. This again will increase anxiety.

Bright lights through Christmas decorations etc can lead to sensory overload. Seekers will actively look out for this whereas avoiders will find discomfort.

Crowds – try to plan ahead and avoid the queues. If visiting family and friends who have large gatherings, remember to allow your child to have a quiet area to go if they are feeling overwhelmed. Some children may actively seek out social interactions and become heightened. Try to do lots of heavy work and calming activities regularly to aid regulation.

Overall – in order to support your child during the festive period, plan ahead, explain to family and friends about your child’s specific needs. By using self-regulation activities, this will ensure your child is supported with their sensory needs for them to remain calm and enjoy the fuss. Here are a few tips for the different sensory systems.

  • Visual – dim lighting, reduce visual distractions within the environment, declutter a room or desk or classroom
  • Auditory – even toned voice, calm and soft, rhythmic sounds, use ear defenders
  • Smells – reduce scents and odours, use calming scents such as lavender or vanilla
  • Taste – bland or neutral flavours such as rice, plain bread/potatoes
  • Touch – firm pressured touch, warm drinks, squeezing or wrap in blanket
  • Vestibular (balance/movement) – slow and rhythmic movements, rocking, slow head movements
  • Proprioception (heavy work) – bear hugs, deep pressure massage, animal walks, gardening, hoovering, pushing/pulling activities

Have a go at some of the ideas. Do remember to stop though if they are causing distress.

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