Celebrations & Sensory Kids

by Kristina Mulligan

Though the holiday season is behind us, celebrations are year-round. Especially with the nicer weather trying it’s hardest to stay constant and summer right around the corner, get-togethers are becoming more frequent. There are things that are important to remember if a child with sensory processing disorder is a part of your life. While special accommodations are never expected, understanding and compassion are always appreciated. How can you create a loving environment for your favorite sensory kids?

1.Hugs and kisses should be kept to a minimum.
It’s nothing against you – some kids with sensory processing disorders just do not express affection in this way. It’s helpful to wait and see how a child greets or says goodbye to you, they may wave, possibly just say “hello” or “goodbye,” or maybe nothing at all. Maybe, given some time, they may give you a hug or a kiss but it shouldn’t be expected.
Parent Tip: I usually ask Flynn how he would like to say hello or goodbye to someone, that way he is in control of the situation. If it makes them even more comfortable, you can even get creative and bring things along that your child loves (like stickers or drawings that they have done ahead of time) to give to those at a gathering, if it’s appropriate.

2. Leave discipline up to the parents or primary caregivers.
It’s possible that quirks that you find unusual aren’t uncommon at home, so the people who care for the child will likely know how to handle the situation. It’s even possible that some behaviors are indications of something else, so there are specific remedies.
For example, my son is constantly putting items in his mouth because he craves oral sensory input. To anyone else, an immediate response may be to yell at him, but loud noises frighten him. It may also be instinct to force your hand into his mouth to retrieve the object, but due to his sensory aversions, this may cause setbacks within the progress he has made. As his parents, we understand the most positive response to situations like this and it’s ideal to leave it up to us. 
Of course, if there’s ever a question of safety, that should always come first!

3. Some situations may be overwhelming, so be patient.
For some children, loud noises, bright lights, certain colors/patterns, potent smells, or even particular textures may be too much to handle. There may be moments where the parent(s) and child must excuse themselves to regain some stability and calm down. This may happen whenever there’s a trigger which could be at any time, even if it’s inconvenient, so patience and understanding from others is so important.

4. Please don’t take a declined invitation personally.
I’ve had to say no to a lot of events because I know the stress that it would put on my son (or me) to attend. Sometimes, I know in my heart that it’s just going to be too much – too many people, too much noise, too far away. I try my best to be as prepared as I can so that we can do as much as possible, but we just simply cannot do it all. Speaking for all special needs parents who are in this situation: we do not mean to hurt feelings or disappoint. We simply know our limits. 

5. Even an event held at home can be stressful.
Sometimes, even preparing for an event at home can call for a lot of extra preparation. With extra people in their usual space, kids may feel off balance causing erratic behaviors which, for us, can even last a couple of days. It can take its toll at times, so please know that even gatherings held at the family’s home can be taxing and may not happen frequently, or may have to have a limited number of guests.

What it comes down to is this: parents of children with sensory processing disorders are trying their best. We try to approach each situation with love, understanding, compassion, and the best interest of our children in mind. We really would appreciate it if you could do that, too.

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About The Author: Nick Hall

Nick founded Graham's Foundation in memory of his son, whom he lost to prematurity. Graham's Foundation supports parents through the journey of prematurity and is committed to making sure that no parent goes through that journey alone.