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Sensory Smart Holiday Strategies


Holidays should be fun for kids, right? With a child who has sensory issues, maybe not so much. My article in Autism Parenting magazine shares some sensory smart holiday strategies, and you'll find more in Raising a Sensory Smart Child, too.

As parents, we can have our heart set on our kids participating in a particular holiday tradition, but if we're creative, we can find workarounds for old traditions and introduce new traditions that work better for our families. Here are some holiday traditions you might want to consider adopting.

Outdoor time tradition. Our bodies were designed to be outdoors, yet kids with sensory issues may need some accommodations to get out the door and into nature. Did you know that research shows that being outdoors in nature can actually reduce our levels of the stress hormone cortisol? Set a new tradition of taking a family walk in the snow, visiting to a natural area to watch a sunset and its beautiful colors, and gazing up at the stars in the night sky on a holiday night each year (by me, that means looking for the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt—easy for a child to spot!).

Craft tradition. Making an ornament, candle holder, or doing another holiday craft project results in some wonderful keepsakes but also gives your child a chance to express himself with art (while working on fine motor skills--which many of our kids have trouble with). If your child won't use glue, try a glue stick. Accommodate your child's sensory issues while giving her a chance to stretch herself in terms of what she'll tolerate, too. Will she work with some sticky Wikki Stix to decorate the window or some Fun-Tak mounting putty to affix to the wall a holiday drawing or painting she made?

Singing tradition. Kids with auditory issues can have exquisitely sensitive ears. Singing in unison with others might be easier if you do it outdoors or in a room with a lot of padding (pillows, couches, rugs, blankets) and lower ceilings where the sound doesn't bounce off walls. Singing outdoors might be easier, too, as the sound can dissipate into the air.

Story tradition. Tell family stories, stories from your religious or spiritual tradition, and/or stories you feel capture the spirit of the holiday. Invite your children to read a storybook with you. Even older children can enjoy having stories read to them. You might want to listen to a favorite family audiobook in the car on the way to a gathering or event.

Movie tradition. In my family, we watch Elf and It's a Wonderful Life together every Christmas, but we also go to see a holiday movie in a theater to celebrate my late mother's birthday each year, remembering how much she loved movies. Theaters can be a treat, and many now have sensory friendly movies. Movie traditions might involve a theater, your TV or mobile device, a DVD from the library, and perhaps subtitles to make it easier for everyone to follow the plot. The latter is especially helpful for a child with sensory issues who thinks in pictures and could use some help with hearing all those words that can go by quickly.

Love tradition. Holidays are about love: celebrating the love we all share. You might want to take some time during the holiday to have a conversation with your child or children about your and their thoughts and feelings about love love. What are loving actions? What are loving thoughts? What can love do for people? What are some of the different ways we can express love and kindness?

Start a new tradition, refashion an old one—or simply retire it and move on to something new. Whatever you do, here's hoping you and your family have a wonderful holiday season!

Orion's belt, a constellation you can have fun spotting with your child.

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