Rose’s Ruminations: Avoiding Sensory Overload During the Holidays

December 14, 2018 | Abram's Nation

In our “Rose’s Ruminations” blog series, I’m sharing my personal experiences as mom of three, founder of Abram’s Nation, and a parent of a child, Abram, who has special needs. While your experiences may be unique and different from mine, know that you are not alone. As a community of parents, caregivers and friends, we can learn so much from each other. Please join the Abram’s Nation family in providing support and a compassionate ear, sharing your experiences and tips, and giving each other hope simply by being companions on this sometimes crazy, yet always meaningful, journey we call life.

In our last blog, we talked about how a sensory diet can help your child get the sensory input they need when they need it. Right on cue, it’s that time of year when our senses are heightened. From tasting delicious food and seeing bright lights, to hearing festive music and walking through crowded shopping malls, you can just feel the electricity in the air. For some, it’s the welcome feeling of the holiday season. For others, it’s complete sensory overload.

Here are some tips my family and I have picked up over the years to help our entire family make it through the excitement of the holiday season.

  1. Give your child the feeling of control.

When all of our senses are buzzing, we naturally seek a sense of control. With the help of so many wonderful occupational therapists over the years, we learned ways to regain that feeling of control. Early on, the force from spinning in a swing would provide Abram some relief, bringing him back to center and stopping the external world from spinning around him. We never leave home without earbuds on hand to drown out the outside noise  when it gets to be too much. With guidance from our occupational therapists, we also work with teachers to increase sensory input when needed, such as giving Abram the task of carrying books from the library back to the classroom or adding weight to his backpack. (Please check out our Weight Mate if you’re looking for your own portable solution.) For an approach that can be tailored to any location, we also like providing a simple obstacle course – do 10 jumping jacks, hop down the hall and skip to the mailbox – to create a distraction and controlled physical sensation. When nothing else seems to be working, we also give Abram the control to create a sign that he just needs to leave a certain situation.

  1. Follow your schedule.

We have an 8 p.m. bedtime and the routine that goes with it – bath, books, pajamas, quiet time and finally bed. Around the holidays, there are so many family gatherings and events that threaten a regular schedule, but we learned early on that very few things are worth disrupting our routine. We share our routine with family members and friends and tell them why we need to change dinner plans to lunch plans instead. We’ll choose events that work best with our schedule. And when it comes down to it, we’ll say no to invitations that just don’t fit our schedule. It’s not always easy, but we’ve learned those who love us understand.

  1. Set expectations.

With so many new settings and situations that arise around the holidays, we help Abram adapt by setting expectations in advance. We’ll use a series of photographs to create a visual schedule in preparation for a busy day. We build social stories to introduce Abram to new situations in advance. For example, if we’re traveling on an airplane, we’ll create a photobook to describe what’s going to happen – you’re going to hold my hand when we walk onto the plane, you’re going to sit next to me and you’re going to feel happy. Then we’ll read the story, talk through the expectations, and repeat until the big day.

If you’re a loving family member or friend wondering how to create a comfortable environment, please just ask the parent what the child needs. Every child is different and it’s ok to not know exactly what to do – just ask. What works for Abram may not work for another child. So please help me add to this list – what are your tried and true ways to help your child avoid sensory overload during the holiday season?

Now that I’ve shared my tips for planning ahead and managing sensory overload, come back next week to get a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when, despite everything, meltdown is imminent. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?


– Rose