The holiday season can be a time of great joy, but for children with sensory issues, new schedules and once-a-year happenings can spell a-n-x-i-e-t-y.
To reduce that possibility, Easterseals offers eight strategies to help parents and guardians and their sensory-sensitive children enjoy this festive season:
1. Prepare a schedule. A verbal, visual or handwritten schedule is imperative for busy days with sensory-sensitive children, particularly days that include multiple transitions and activities that may be unfamiliar to your child. Discussing events in advance and reviewing them several times can help a child understand what’s next, clarify expectations and reduce anxiety. Using social stories that include the timeline, activities and who’ll be attending can be comforting for children. Encourage questions and plan for any foreseen obstacles.
2. Be mindful of your child’s sensory needs. Try to avoid predictably stressful scenarios. For example, if your child does not like crowds, try shopping early in the morning or at night. If loud noises bother your child, try a smaller venue, or offer ear plugs or noise-reducing headphones. Determine a “break area” to serve as a safe escape as needed in case your child becomes overstimulated or overwhelmed.
3. Enlist your “village.” Have a family meeting and discuss holiday plans/activities that include your child. Discuss expectations with your family and problem solve potential obstacles in advance with them.
4. Prioritize sleep and meal schedules. Try not to deviate too much from your child’s daily schedule, with special attention to meal and nap/bed times. Keeping these predictable and scheduled as usual will pay off when it’s time to transition back to school, too.
5. Take proactive breaks. Locate a calm space/relax zone for each place you go and when possible, determine it in advance. Bring your child’s comfort toy(s) and identify a code word that your child can use to indicate they’re distressed. These often provide children with a sense of control and can reduce anxiety. Many meltdowns have been avoided by taking pro-active breaks.
6. Keep your child comfortable. Pack comfort items for your child when they’re out and about. These may include a favorite toy, book, music or coloring supplies. Bring extra items for your child to share with others to encourage socialization, too. If your child loves to play on your smartphone or another digital device, limit its use and only provide it during agreed-upon times (unless the device is used for communication with you).
7. Stay on track-food sensitivities: If your child has food allergies or sensitivities that may prevent them from enjoying holiday treats, bring alternatives enough to share.
8. Keep your holiday décor simple: The holidays are filled with twinkling lights, festive music and many new scents. To acclimate your child to changes in their home environment, for example, involve them in decorating. Allow them to help decide what and where holiday décor should be placed. Involving them in decision making gives a child a sense of control and can lead to some great “ah-ha” moments between you, too.
Happy Holidays from Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida! We wish you all the love and joy the season brings.
Just as there’s no escaping the news coverage of Hurricane Florence this week, there’s no escaping a hurricane when it’s headed your way. Caring for children – including those with special needs -- during such an event can be doubly daunting.
Faring well in a hurricane is all about preparedness, and resources from FEMA to the American Red Cross bring us tips on preparing emergency kits for such weather. (If you’ve not yet secured your hurricane preparedness kit, it’s time to do so. Florida’s hurricane season continues through November 30, and September is a peak month for hurricane activity.)
For parents and caregivers of children with special needs, preparation takes on additional importance. Aside from physical preparations a family may need to undertake, the emotional and psychological trauma of uncertain and scary weather can be challenging for children.
To help keep youngsters calm during storms and severe weather – once they are safely evacuated and/or secure – experts offer several ideas for families:
1. Demonstrate and encourage calm behavior. Calm parents and caregivers help children remain calm, too. Limit news coverage to only the necessary messages and monitor the media entering the child’s world. Non-stop meteorologist commentary can overwhelm anyone.
2. Explore the science of weather. Hurricanes and severe weather are scientific marvels. If your child is curious about what’s happening outside, gear up with some educational resources to help explain and entertain. Curriculum examples multiple grade levels are available via the National Education Association.
3. Keep routine as much as possible. Maintaining as much consistency in schedule as possible can help a child feel secure. If your child finds comfort in routine, keep the elements you can, such as eating lunch at a certain time or playing a favorite game after dinner.
4. Be honest and confident. If your child asks questions about the storm, answer them honestly; it’s okay to be brief. Confidently explain the measures the family has taken to ensure you’re all safe and you’re well prepared. Encouraging children’s questions will help them express their fears.
5. Encouraging hugging. From snuggling a favorite stuffed animal to sitting on daddy’s lap, cuddling up can help quell anxiety.
6. Give the kids a job. Feeling helpful can bring purpose to uncomfortable situations. Let your kids be helpers if possible. Ask them to collect candles, check the flashlight batteries or pack some snacks.
Severe weather doesn’t have to be a severe bummer. Prepare your children and make the best of inevitable inconvenience by employing activities and mindsets that can bring the calm to any storm.
Sources: Omaha.com, huffingtonpost.com, americanredcross.org, fema.gov.