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Surviving Halloween With Sensory Issues

 When I think of Halloween, my mind races back to colorful memories of bright and lively costumes, overly sweet and delicious fun-sized bars of chocolate, and children of all ages screaming “trick or treat”! As most parents know, children who are especially oversensitive to auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli may experience a spark in meltdowns or increase in negative behaviors as a response to this incoming sensory input. Below are some helpful strategies to circumvent these challenges before the day and ensure a safe, fun, and successful Halloween for all.

How to survive Halloween with sensory issues:

  • Recognizing the symptoms of auditory sensitivity is the first step in preventing any tantrums or negativeHow to Survive Halloween with Sensory Issues experiences resulting from auditory overload. If your child has auditory sensitivities, investing in some noise-canceling ear plugs or headphones may help to alleviate some of the meltdowns that arise with loud music or conversation at Halloween parties.
  • Trick or treating is one of the most fun and special parts about Halloween. Encouraging children to take part in this special tradition is important to allow them to be able to explore and grow their social skills and leisure opportunities. If your child is tactile or visually sensitive, or he becomes overly emotional or uncomfortable when having to meet and introduce themselves to people, it may be helpful to have an older sibling take on the responsibility of introducing selves to neighbors or family while trick-or-treating. Let your child choose if they want to partake in ringing the doorbell and asking for treats, and know that it is okay if they wish to hang back with caregiver while visiting unfamiliar houses. Role playing with your child to help them prepare for the day’s activities can also be a helpful way to improve their social emotional responses.
  • Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes time to wear a costume! Oftentimes, Halloween costumes can be hot, difficult to put on, or uncomfortable. To avoid this nightmare, prepare your child by having them wear their costume days before the festivities, so that they have an opportunity to break in their costume on their own time, which can highlight any potential issues beforehand. Hosting a fashion show with other siblings or friends could help to make the idea of wearing non-traditional clothing more fun and exciting in a non-threatening environment.
  • For Halloween parties, make sure to bring some familiar food for the child to enjoy. Safe food choices can be comforting in an unfamiliar setting like a family or friend gathering, especially when the parent is not there for support. If the party is at your house, take advantage of this by setting up a sensory corner away from the main area of entertainment and provide extensive individual and all age activities to try out. Some good suggestions may include coloring, painting pumpkins, or themed craft jewelry. Playing quiet music and decreasing the amount bright lighting can help alleviate some stress for children with sensory concerns.


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sensory strategies for a happy holiday season

Sensory Strategies for a Happy Holiday Season

Melodious songs fill your rooms, the aroma of scented candles waft through the hallways, oven timers ding from the kitchen and everyone feels a bit overwhelmed by all the preparations being completed in every nook of the house! The holiday season brings joy, excitement and family time. It also brings with it enough sensory stimulation to last you until next December! Whether it be tactile, olfactory or auditory stimulation, the holidays bring with them a copious amount of sensory information. Holidays can be a tough time for children who have sensory processing difficulties. Just remember, like any other time of the year, there are strategies to help with sensory sensitivities during the holidays.

Prepare your child for a holiday party and other family get-togethers with these sensory strategies:

  1. Create a visual schedule. Include the big details of the event, including dressing up for the get together, thesensory strategies for a happy holiday season commute to the event, expected activities and the friends/family that your child will get a chance to play with. A visual schedule is a great way to prepare your child for the types of sensory experiences they are about to have.
  2. Upon arrival to your holiday destination, help orient your child to the new space. Take a little tour of the venue, pointing out the bathroom, a quiet room and a play space. If you are familiar with the venue prior to arrival, make a map of the space and have your child put their favorite stickers on the areas that seem safe!
  3. If your child is has auditory sensitivities provide him with head phones or ear plugs to help dampen the sounds in his environment.
  4. Holiday parties provide adults with a bountiful feast but can leave children with squeamish looks on their faces. Encourage your child to try something new if the opportunity exists; but if the textures and smells seem overwhelming, have her preferred snacks hiding in your purse.
  5. If your child has tactile sensitivities to clothing, allow them to be comfortable. The holidays can be the time to bring out your best party attire, but that doesn’t mean your child needs a skirt filled with tulle or a bow tie. Allow your child to choose his holiday outfit based on preferences and tolerable textures. Those casual clothes may raise eyebrows, but that’s nothing to worry about as long as you know your child feels safe!
  6. If your child is movement-seeking, encourage a movement break as needed. Use gross motor activities like jumping jacks, dancing or toe touches!
  7. Holiday parties can be filled with the smells of candles, cooking and other guests’ perfumes. Allow your child to bring a comforting object from home, whether it be a familiar blanket or stuffed animal that has the scent of home and provides a sense of safety.

Remember that the holidays are a time for fun, for you and your children! Making the environment more sensory-friendly can enhance your child’s fun and create positive and lasting memories!






Activities to Address Your Child’s Tactile Hypersensitivities

As stated in my previous blog “Why is my Child Sensitive to Clothing”, our goal as occupational therapists is to help children with child with puttytactile defensiveness to re-train their brains in order to identify and process various tactile inputs appropriately, and to best engage in age-appropriate activities, including wearing a variety of clothing.  Listed below are several activities that occupational therapists use within your child’s sessions in order to address their tactile hypersensitivities. These activities can also be replicated at home as part of a home exercise program.

Activities For Children With Tactile Hypersensitivities:

  • Play in a variety of media (e.g. rice bin, sandbox, shaving cream, finger paint, cotton balls,and glue)
  • Tortilla Roll-Up: Roll your child tightly inside a blanket (weighted blanket is appropriate too) with his arms crossed over his/her chest or next to their body; Then, give your child squishes to provide him/her with increased tactile and proprioceptive input (body awareness).
  • Pillow Squishes: Have your child lie between two large pillows or beanbags and provide him/her with squishes.  As every child will be different, make sure to listen to the child and ask him if he would like soft, medium or hard squishes,Their preferences might even change depending on the day.
  • Theraputty: Have your child locate marbles or coins inside the theraputty (playdough and other homemade dough can also be used).  This activity will work on hand strength,while providing your child with tactile input at the same time.
  • Practice wearing least-preferred clothing for small increments of time and gradually build up the length of time (e.g. jeans and socks).  A visual or auditory timer can be set to help identify when the time will be up.
  • Wilbarger Brushing Protocol:  Speak with your occupational therapist about how a brushing program may be implemented at home with your child.  Brushing provides additional tactile input and stimulation to your child’s legs, arms, hands, feet and back.  Brushing is always followed-up by joint compressions so that your child also receives proprioceptive input.

Overall, the goal of the above-listed therapeutic activities is to help your child better process a variety of tactile input as well as become less agitated and overwhelmed by typical sensory experiences.  It is important to expose your child to these sensory experiences so that he/she has the opportunity to grow and learn within their environment as well as keep up with same aged peers (e.g. wearing age-appropriate clothing and participating in age-appropriate art projects). Be sure to consult with your occupational therapist to identify the best activities for your child in particular.

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Developmental and Therapeutic Uses for Playdoh

There are so many common household items and children’s toys that have great therapeutic value when used or playedLittle girl playing Play-doh with in certain ways.  Playdoh may seem like an item that children use solely for creative play, but it can be a therapist’s and parent’s go-to activity that is both fun and extremely beneficial to a child’s development.

Developmental Skills that can be optimized through the use of Playdoh:

  • Hand Strength Whether your child is smashing the Playdoh into pancakes, squishing it so it explodes through their fingers, or using the Playdoh tools to create a spaghetti dinner, the muscles in the hand are constantly working and the Playdoh acts as a resistive force.  This is a great activity for kids who have handwriting difficulties, complain of getting tired while writing, don’t have a clearly defined hand dominance or have overall fine motor delays.
  • Bilateral Coordination Activities that target bilateral coordination and are fun to do at home may be difficult to come up with, but Playdoh is a great solution.  Many kids who have challenges with bilateral coordination often have difficulty with daily tasks like using a knife and fork to cut food and tying their shoes.  Kids can roll the Playdoh out into a flat “pancake-like” shape and then practice using a knife and fork to cut the food into small pieces.  This is a safe way to practice cutting foods as plastic utensil can be used and doesn’t waste food.  Cookie cutters or actual Playdoh toys with imprints of real food can also be used to add another layer to this activity.
  • Practicing Writing and Drawing Writing or drawing shapes in Playdoh is a great alternative to traditional writing activities; it may be more motivating for some kids who have difficulty with writing tasks while offering a resistive surface which improves hands strength at the same time.  Roll out Playdoh (modeling clay can be substituted for older kids who may benefit from a more resistive surface) onto a cookie sheet or similar surface and use a chopstick, pencil, or even the child’s finger to write letters.  For kids who are just learning to write or have a hard time with letter formation, shapes can be substituted, or an adult or older child can make a light impression of the letter and the child can trace using their full force.
  • Tactile Sensitivities For children  with tactile sensitivities, they are often fearful of or hesitant to touch a variety of textures.  Playdoh is a great transition item to use to bridge the gap between common firm/hard surfaces which are often “comfortable” and the textures which a child is sensitive to, such a soft, sticky and/or mushy to name a few.  Playdoh is easy to clean up and can be used in a variety of ways (cookie cutters, incorporate it with a child’s trains or action figures, have a tea party, etc), making it the perfect tool to introduce to a child who may have tactile sensitivities.  A great way to progress after becoming comfortable with store bought Playdoh is to find a recipe online for making your own Playdoh at home. These are often quick and easy recipes using common household items and can usually be colored in a fun way; some are even edible making this a total sensory experience and a lot of fun!

Playdoh has so many uses besides being a fun and creative tool for play for kids, but because it is fun and so versatile, it is an invaluable tool for working on therapeutic goals at home. There really isn’t a wrong way to use Playdoh as long as your kids are having fun and using their hands to explore.

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