Candy canes, flashing lights, crowds of people, late nights, big days and just stuff everywhere!! This is what we love about the festive season! However, for our kids on the spectrum who work best to a routine and are sensory sensitive, all these festivities are just one challenge after another. All the things we love about the holidays could throw your child’s routine out of whack from sleep disruption, poor diet, spontaneous events and sensory overload. This can lead to a sensory meltdown and prolonged behavioural challenges such as hyperactivity, aggression and inattentiveness.
Here at Homebase Hope, we want you and your family to enjoy and cherish all that is wonderful about this time of year, so we have come up with strategies to common situations so you can feel empowered at homebase this Christmas.
Situation: During this time of year there is food everywhere you turn – and it’s not nutrient dense food! Often the processed sugary foods are easily accessible and not always avoidable. Grandparents love giving children treats, Santa Clause is handing out candy canes and Christmas parties have it all on display.
Strategy: Remember, you have control over what you keep at homebase. Spend some time connecting and creating homemade treats with your child. Prepare healthier versions that can be stored in the fridge or pantry and be readily available to take with you or have on offer when you have guests around. It’s OK to politely say “no” to grandparents or friends. Let them know that you would rather they do not give your child sugary processed foods. If the situation seems unavoidable, put a limit on the amount that is consumed.
2. Sensory overload
Situation: Shopping centres are full of people in a rush! There are people everywhere brushing up against each other, loud echoes, bright flashing Christmas lights, decorations and festive music on repeat. You name it, it’s there! And it’s the perfect recipe for a sensory overload.
Strategy: First and foremost, you need to remember that if your child does experience a meltdown in the shopping centre – it’s not their fault! Yes, the kicking, screaming, crying behaviours may look like a tantrum from an outsiders perspective, but you know very well it is their inability to cope with the bombardment of sensory stimulation which is sending them into a sensory meltdown. It is a legitimate neurological challenge that must be respected. Your child’s meltdown is a sign that they have not yet figured out how to cope with the incoming bombardment of sensory input and they need help. Yes, people may stare or even judge. Don’t let it bother you. You do what you need to do to make your child feel safe. This is the priority.
If you know in advance that the extra stimulation in the shops has the potential to cause challenges and meltdowns, avoid the shops all together! Don’t put your child and yourself through the stress. It’s simply not worth it. Alternatively, avoid peak hour, which is generally the middle of the day. Go first thing in the morning or later in the evening. Some local supermarkets offer sensory sensitive hours (amazing!!) – utilise these hours! Finally, locate quiet areas such as a parent’s room and visit them as frequently as needed to help calm the frantic nervous system.
Situation: If you have friends and family visiting, there is generally a bit more of a ‘relaxed’ approached to bed time and kids get to stay up later. Right? Christmas parties, New Years Eve celebrations – these are all great moments to have with your family, however disrupted sleep patterns for kids with autism can lead to challenges in behaviour the next day.
Strategy: Plan ahead! If you know the consequences of your child having disrupted sleep perhaps reconsider the party or go home earlier. Do not feel bad. Friends will understand. If we are honest, most adults suffer disturbances in behaviour from a bad night’s sleep, so imagine how it affects your child. After a late night, try to follow it up with a calm day for your family. Keep the visits and interaction with other people at a minimum and allow your child to catch up on rest.
Situation: During the holidays your child’s routine is turned upside down. For starters, there is no school and there are lots of impromptu play days and outings. Children on the spectrum find great comfort in routine therefore these changes may create anxiety and agitation.
Strategy: Try to maintain a similar routine for predicable activities such as waking up, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, having a bath and going to bed. Keep the days as structured as possible and involve your child in the planning of the day to limit the ‘surprises’.
5. Time out for YOU!
Situation: It is very easy for parents to burn out during the festivities. Often we take on way too much; accepting impromptu party invitations equals a rush to the shop for a gift, loads of cooking, entertaining, keeping the house clean, consistently trying to please your family and your other half’s family, not to mention some of the challenges that come with raising a child with autism. Burn out is almost expected.
Strategy: BREATHE! Plan ahead. Get grounded! Let your feet touch the earth. When was the last time you walked barefoot? Flick your thongs off and walk barefoot along the beach or simply open your backdoor and let your feet get a massage from the grass. Let the sun touch your skin and soak up some rays of sunshine. Take a moment to breathe in the fresh air and let go of the stress. Ensure you are fuelling your body with nutrient dense foods and stay well hydrated. This time of year is to be enjoyed by all, including you!
Remember, surviving the festive (silly) season begins at homebase.
From all of us here at Homebase Hope, we wish you all a very merry and sensory sensitive Christmas and a happy New Year!! xxx