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Helping Your Sensory Child Have Fun This Holiday Season

I recently read that there are over 30 different festivals and observances during December so the holiday season is definitely an exciting time of year! Lights and decorations are going up, the malls are getting busier, Santa parades and visits are coming soon too.  Lots for the little ones to see and do to make this time of year extra special.

But what if your little one has sensory issues? All the things that some see as fun and exciting turn into loud and overwhelming very quickly for children that have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

We all want our kids to have a memorable holiday season, but we can sometimes forget that standing in line 30 minutes to see Santa is hard for little kids, and even though they are excited to see him, fear and anxiety can set in when their turn is next, ruining that perfect Santa photo you had in mind.

So here are some tips to make this holiday season not so overwhelming for our special sensory children.

Santa Visits

Expect the biggest lineups to be on weekends, suppertime and closer to Christmas, so plan to go when it’s not as busy, generally during the daytime during the week.  As homeschoolers, we have the freedom to go during the day, but if your child is in school, perhaps a surprise morning off will make it a quick and easy visit with Santa.

Also, be sure to bring something to keep them busy while standing in line, books, small toys, snacks, etc. If you have a sensory seeker that likes to jump, spin and run all over, make sure to help them get their seeking done before they get in line.  Hold hands and skip into the mall, hop along the sidewalk and get some bouncing in before you go inside.

Lights and Parades

We have some beautiful light displays in our city and surrounding areas and Santa Clause Parades are popular for the young and young at heart.  In recent years, we tend to skip the bus light tours and horse drawn carriage light tours and do our own driving tours so that we’re not stuck somewhere when the kiddos have had enough. We pile in the car with some snacks and a blanket for when the windows are open and take in the best light displays in the city.

Christmas parades tend to be later in the day so you get the full effect of the bright lights. If your child is prone to meltdowns from off schedule, overtired or too much noise / light stimulation, it might be best to skip completely.  As one parent describes it here, “I am not trying to keep him from fun, I am trying to keep him from pain.” Don’t feel guilty for doing what’s best for your child. You can always find something fun to do around home in a more comfortable environment.

If you are going to attempt it, be prepared for an early departure if they tell you they’re done or you see them getting uncomfortable. Loud sounds from firetrucks, bands, and bells can make a sensory child overwhelmed very easily, so noise cancelling headphones may be a benefit. My daughter also loves to wear hats and put her hood up to help muffle the noise a bit.

Holiday Parties

Depending on what time of day the event is and the child’s mood for the day, I either try to have a quiet, slow day before we head out to a busy event, or have them bounce around and get their sillies out before they have to go some place where they can’t run around and may have to sit for periods of time.  Once you get to to the event, find a spot they can go to if they need to get away from the action for a bit.  Check in with them frequently, see if they need a drink, a snack, or a hug to give them a bit more comfort before they go off and play again.  


Shopping is usually a dreaded experience for parents of sensory children. So much to see and want, touch and hear – no wonder there are always epic meltdowns in grocery store isles and crowded malls.  If you can, try to leave your sensory child at home while you complete your holiday shopping, it will probably be a better experience for both you and your child.  You can get through the busy malls and lineups quickly and they won’t be overwhelmed with voices from every direction and loud music and announcements.  If an family member or favorite babysitter is not available, make sure you’re prepared.  Bring favorite snacks, water, fidgety toys, books,  earphones and a weighted blanket if necessary. Contain them in a stroller, shopping cart or most malls offer carts of some kind to rent.  Also plan your shopping in smaller visits if necessary instead of one long mall trip, or shop online if you can.

What are some ways you help your sensory child get through the busy holiday season?


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