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Ask the Expert: Avoiding a Holiday Meltdown

02 Dec 2016 10:26 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Q:"What types of fine and/or gross motor activities can I do with my child prior to attending a holiday get together that would settle him or her down and make a meltdown less likely?

A: Sarah Durham, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist, Children's Developmental Center in Amherst
Sarah is also the mom of three, one with cerebral palsy


The holidays are upon us, but for some, the holidays are not always “happy”.  For many children, the holiday bustle, the lights, sounds, outings, and gatherings are too much.  Children who experience sensory processing and modulation disorder are especially affected this time of year.  Some have difficulty transitioning to new clothing, more layers, and different textures, while others are extremely overstimulated by the lights, movement, and noise at gatherings. Routines that are different, and out of their control may cause some confusion and anxiety.

How do you help your child get through these overstimulating sensory experiences?

- First of all, know your child.  Look for signs of overstimulation, but be proactive with breaks. Move to a different room, or take a walk to avoid overstimulation. 

- Bring a favorite activity to play with to direct their attention from the lights and sounds. 

- Use a schedule (visual/verbal) to prepare them for the structure and expectations of the day.

- Prep children who become very anxious with social stories or videos, such as seeing Santa, looking at holiday lights, opening presents, etc. If possible, allow for some quiet time before leaving the house and after the event to decompress. 

- Pick up some noise cancelling earbuds/headphones, or provide music, to limit unwanted auditory stimulation. 

- Carry a chew stick (rubber tubes, chewy necklace) or chewy candy, to provide deep calming pressure to the mouth and jaw.

- Have a table for your child slightly away from the big crowd at mealtimes. 

- Heavy work activities such as deep body squeezes (massage, hugs, exercise ball), are beneficial prior to, during and after the event. Depending on your child’s needs, use a heavy blanket, jumping, log rolls, army crawl, bear crawls, wall push-ups, pushing/pulling something heavy, and/or carry objects up/down stairs. 

Cherish these moments and have a wonderful holiday season!

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