Shropshire Council

Managing sensory sensitives at Christmas time

25 November 2021 Last updated at 10:33

Often festivities bring with them lots of celebrations, decorations and changes to the physical environment, which for the most part are enjoyable. However, for young people with SEN there may be differences in their sensory profiles which mean that they are over-sensitive to all this additional stimuli. Below are some tips with regards to managing sensory sensitives and overload at Christmas.

  • Be mindful of the environmental changes that come with festivities e.g. moving furniture, decorations, different lights and the effects this might have on your child. You can plan for the changes, get them involved in these changes or make adaptations e.g. not having lights on the Christmas tree at home if this is something your child finds difficult.
  • Be aware of lighting and your child’s preferences around this, You may wish to pre-warn family members or households you are visiting if your child will get overwhelmed by flashing lights and/or decorations.
  • Wear, or have headphones or ear plugs available to block out sounds. The young person might prefer to have their own music playing through headphones.
  • Have a calm space to go to e.g. a corner of a room with a pop up tent or egg chair, their bedroom. This might need to be accessed more regularly over the festive period to help calm and regulate the sensory systems
  • Have time out or calm time planned (as above)
  • Prepare your child verbally when you are aware there will be significant changes to the environment or if there might be unexpected noises.
  • Visit shopping centres or supermarkets at quieter times
  • Be aware of smells! There are lots of different food smells, tastes and textures around festive times and this may or may not be alerting or distressing for your child. Be prepared to have available their regular foods, cook/prepare food when they aren’t in the kitchen, prepare them for when you will be cooking different foods that might have strong smells if smell is something they are sensitive to.

Sensory calming activities ideas:

  • Sitting under a big, heavy blanket or heavy lap mat
  • Having a deep pressure massage to shoulders and/or hands.
  • Slow rocking back and forth or gently side to side e.g. on a rocking chair, gently in an “egg chair” or on a swing.
  • Giving themselves a tight or hug.
  • Having a bear hug/squeeze
  • Wearing a back pack with weight in (suitable for their size and weight)
  • Squeezing and relaxing a small fidget toy or squeezing and stretching Thera putty/playdough.
  • Snuggling into a small space, this might be with a favourite toy, blanket or comforter.
  • Engaging exercise e.g. walking, jogging, jumping, frog hopping, skipping. Movement can be calming and organising for the sensory systems
  • Engaging in yoga and/or tai chi
  • Sucking a think drink or thick milkshake through a straw.
  • Chewing crunchy foods and/or chewing gum
  • Smelling lavender scents (or other scents that the young person finds calming).
  • Pack a “sensory soothe” travel box/bag (this could be a large lunch box, shoe box or similar) with fidget toys, calming activities, pictures they enjoy looking at, lavender pouch, headphones etc in for easy use), and give permission for these to be used.