3 Tips to Help Your Child Avoid Sensory Overload This Thanksgiving

Therapies and Resources for Children with Autism & Families

For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time for large family gatherings, delicious meals, and lots of activity, whether it is watching the parade on TV or going shopping to a crowded mall. We most likely enjoy this time of year, but for our children with sensory processing challenges, Thanksgiving can be a much different experience. It is a time of loud, disorienting sounds, visits and interactions with unfamiliar people, and many strange aromas coming from the kitchen. If you are worried about how your child will handle this year’s upcoming Thanksgiving festivities, we have some advice for easing and avoiding sensory overload.

Write a schedule of the event – and then discuss it as a family. Many children on the autism spectrum or with a sensory processing disorder handle new experiences better with some preparation. Talk to your child about each step of the event, explaining where you are going, what time you will arrive, who will be there, what he or she is expected to do, such as spend time playing with your cousins or sitting at a large dining room table to eat dinner. If you anticipate the event will be loud and crowded, explain this to your child in advance. Also talk about what your child can do if he or she becomes overwhelmed—possibly have a special code word or signal, or talk to a family member or friend in advance about whether there is a spare room where your child can play or relax if needed. Finally, as a family, make sure everyone understands how long you plan to stay at the event.

Pack a bag of comfort and sensory items. Will your child need to wear dress clothes for any portion of the event? If so, consider bringing along some soft, comfortable clothes for your child to change into later. You can also pack headphones if the environment will be loud. Even a room full of relatives talking in varying volumes – which may be warm and inviting to you – can be extremely distressful for a child with sensory processing disorder. You may also want to bring along favorite snacks, toys or games.

Talk to your friends or family ahead of time. Are you planning to celebrate the holiday at the home of a relative or friend? If so, consider taking some time to discuss with them your child’s challenges and preferences, if you have not already. Many will want to help you and your child have as pleasant of an experience as possible. For example, is there a large, flashing holiday tree or display, or a lot of indoor twinkling lights that will likely overwhelm your child? Maybe these can be turned off for the duration of the event. Is there going to be a large Thanksgiving meal served that your child is not likely to eat? Ask whether your child eating dinner at home before you come over – or possibly having some alternative food items for your child on the Thanksgiving table – would be acceptable. You will feel more comfortable on the holiday if these details have already been discussed and determined.

Are you struggling to cope with your child’s sensory processing challenges, or unsure whether your child may have a sensory processing disorder? Contact the team at Peak Potential Therapy to speak with an experienced, caring therapist.