7 Ways to Maintain Sensory Regulation during Winter Break
As winter break approaches in most schools in North America, days that are normally routine from week to week suddenly become fraught with Christmas concerts & rehearsals, unexpected craft time, movies, holiday music and food. For most children on the autism spectrum and their parents, this is a nightmare. Therefore, we have compiled our top 7 tips to help you and your child through winter break. We'd love to know what other things you do to stay regulated during this time of year in the comments below!
1. Make a holiday routine
For individuals with autism, routine is key. We recommend making a visual schedule so your child knows what to expect every day. As holiday traditions come up in your family, add them to the schedule. If possible, re-use this base schedule every year so that it becomes an annual routine with some tweaks and changes.
2. Stick to a normal diet
This time of year there are snacks and treats available everywhere, as well a unique foods that only come out in December. While many people love this, for a picky eater this can be a challenge if their usual favorites disappear. Keep some of their usual favorite foods available and bring them along to gatherings with friends and family. Warn those you are visiting that your child may have specific dietary differences, and to please not comment or be offended if you bring your own food. Finally, if you want to make standard food more fun, use holiday cookie cutters to cut out lunch meats, cheese, sandwiches, or other favorites.
3. Identify a sensory friendly room in houses you are visiting
If you are going to a holiday party or visiting family, you may want to identify a room for your child to go into if he or she needs to stomp, flap, spin, or have a full on meltdown. Ideally this will be a room away from noise, music and light where they can hide from the overwhelming stimuli in the rest of the house. Encourage them to use this room when they need to (although don't expect them to only stomp or flap in that room!) without judgement from others.
4. Build in breaks
As part of the holiday routine, make sure there are sensory reduced breaks - allow your child to watch a DVD, play a computer game, jump on the trampoline (weather permitting), or do heavy activities to help them stay calm. Predetermine how long the break is for, and make it part of your schedule.
5. Increase exercise
As routines are broken and the exercise that is part of the schedule at school disappears, increasing exercise and making it part of the daily schedule can help kids struggling with sensory inputs says OT Ellen Yack. Build a snowman, run around in snow, rake leaves, jump on the trampoline or go swimming, depending what your weather is like. Find activities that they like doing and add it to the schedule!
6. Learn basic holiday phrases
If your child is verbal, teach them standard holiday greetings like "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" or "it's good to see you again." This will help your child know how to transition into new environments and fit in when visiting with family they have not seen in a while.
7. Bring those reliable tools like Snug Vest!
Even more important than usual, make sure you have your reliable tools available. If your child likes Deep Pressure, look into getting them a Snug Vest to help them stay calm and reduce anxiety & meltdowns while grocery shopping, at holiday events and at home! Bring along headphones to block out extra noise that may bother your son or daughter, or set up their swing so that they can spin when they need a break. These tools can help them regulate and liken new situations to those that are a part of their routine.
Ultimately, it is important to continue helping your child regulate by keeping an eye on them, monitoring the situation, identifying sensory overload and dealing with it accordingly. Remember, your son or daughter may not realize they are experiencing sensory overload until they are removed from the trigger or environment, so help them regulate as best you can! Ask your OT for other suggestions for the holidays specific to your child. Do you have other winter break activities that help with self-regulation? Feedback on these ones? Comment below!
May you and your family have a happy, snug and self-regulated holiday season!