Joelle Krantz
Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant

The holiday season is just around the corner. The smell of baked goods will soon fill the air and the glow of lights will soon enhance the night. This year will be a great one and we want to make sure you are ready for all the parties, different schedules, decorations, songs, treats, and the smells that fill our environment. For most this is what makes the holiday season so joyful, but for others the exact things can bring on anxiety, meltdowns, and sensory overload. The Occupational Therapy department here at Special Kids have brainstormed a small batch of helpful “tricks and treats” to prep for the holiday season.

I don’t know about you, but the holiday season can be completely overwhelming. When you think “Holiday Season”, what comes to mind? For me, it’s everything from delicious smelling candles, busy stores, new toys, crowded houses, and bright lights. Now imagine you were bombarded with all this sensory information all at once having difficulty separating it all. Sounds stressful, right? Here’s the thing, sensory overload can overtake anyone. It can happen to adults, kids with special needs, typically developing kids, and teenagers. We want to help you first notice the possible signs of sensory overload and ease the transition into this season of holiday festivities.

Possible Signs of Sensory Overload:

  • Troubled by noises: A child might be covering their ears and making loud noises to drone out the sounds that many overloading their senses.
  • Full of heightened activity: This behavior may include jumping off furniture, running aimlessly in the house, and spinning.
  • Forceful behavior: A child may present this by hitting, pushing, and even biting others.
  • More frequent meltdowns: This can happen without warning involving crying, throwing things, or even screaming.

How to better prepare for holiday festivities:

  • Bring a familiar toy(s): Let the child bring their favorite toy with them to help transition if the holiday events are happening away from home.
  • Talk about it before: Take time to discuss the event: What will it be like? What they will see? What they will smell? How they might feel?
  • Choose outfits: Let your child to choose clothes that may be more comfortable for them. If needed, you can choose 2-3 preferred outfits that they can choose from.
  • Take breaks: Let your child know that it is okay to tell you when they need a break. You can also make a plan or pick a place to go when they need a break.
  • Calming strategies: Have a bag of things that calm them available for when they need it. All of the following can be considered calming: soft music, low-lighting, weighted blankets, etc.
  • Be food prepared: Make sure if you are going somewhere for an event, bring back-up snacks or food you know your child will eat.
  • Try to find a child-friendly space: It may help to have a designated table or area where "kids can be kids" and choose to go to when feeling overwhelmed.

Recommended References to Learn More: 

References are for informational purposes only and they are not intended to replace physician and/or occupational therapy treatment(s).