There are many things around at Christmas that are not happening the rest of the year and may be challenging for anyone with sensory processing differences which are common in autistic people. Here is my top twelve 12 possible sensory challenges of The festive season based on the experience of my son.
1. Noisy visitors
At Christmas there are often more people around and they will hopefully be enjoying themselves. However the noise of chatter and laughter can get overwhelming for an autistic child so it is important to give them space where they can get away from the noise. Allocate a room or area if possible when at home or visiting others and perhaps invest in a do not disturb sign for the door.
2. Bright lights
All the twinkly lights of Christmas can get too much or over stimulate so perhaps avoid the chasing multifunctional type and stick with the more simple ones without a lot of functions.
3. Colourful decorations
Too many very bright decorations can be too much for some sensory avoiders, replacing tinsel with greenery garlands or paper chains or strings of popcorn can tone it down a bit without losing the festive feel. Perhaps also put them up a little later or leave one room free from them so there is somewhere to escape if they get overloaded.
4. Real Christmas Trees
I love a real Christmas tree but my son can’t cope with the pine scent or the feel of the dropped needles so we stick to artificial tree now.
5. Unfamiliar food
Often we have different foods at Christmas and this can prove a sensory nightmare as certain textures can be challenging and even familiar food that have had things added to make them more festive can unset the texture. Allow your child to pick and choose what they wish to eat and don’t force them to clear their plate. Of you are eating at home perhaps have a familiar alternative available or even take a little box of favourite snacks if you are eating at Friends or relatives. The sound of a lot of people eating can also be a challenge so allowing your child a separate space to eat alone or with just a few people might help.
6. Smells in the environment
There are so many smells that evoke Christmas from the smell of the turkey roasting to mulled wine, be aware these may overload and perhaps take a walk to give them a break before dinner.
7. Crackers, party poppers and balloons
Sudden load bags can actually be painful to the ears of someone with a sensory processing disorder to it is not funny to allow these to be let of, burst or pulled close to them or to make them join in. Better avoided if you are in control of the Christmas arrangements. Ear defenders can be a real help
9. Overnight stays
Having to stay on a different bed because you are visiting friends or you need to make room for family can really be hard when you are use to the feeling of your own bed. A pop up tent with some familiar things and the child’s usual bedding can really help.
10. Parties and events
Parties can be really loud, ear defenders can be useful but also plan an escape if it gets too much. Never force your child to go to a party if they don’t want to, it might just be too much for them. Try to arrange things so you don’t have too many events going on on the same day r week, plenty of down time in between will pay dividends.
11. Christmas Outfits
New clothes can be really uncomfortable and Christmas jumpers scratchy. Allowing your child to dress in their usual clothes rather than dress up for Christmas might help them get through the day in better spirits.
12. Over familiar relatives
We all have that Aunty who wants to kiss our child or touch their hair or hug them, it’s up to us to both protect our child for this and to let them know it’s ok to say no. Hugging, squeezing cheeks or back slapping can be painful for those with SPD so it is important we are our child’s advocates about this.