I’m writing this post because as many of you know my son and myself have sensory processing disorder. October was sensory processing disorder awareness month and so……let’s become aware shall we?
For many the holidays are a time of joy, celebration, and family, as we honor traditions and begin new ones. Over the years of raising a sensory sensitive child, I’ve become ever so aware of how “TOO MUCH” the holidays can be. Hence the rephrasing “holly daze”.
It seems every year we attempt to fit into our families’ celebrations, and every year we have a 2hr car ride home with overstimulated, screaming children who have had “TOO MUCH!” Dear me, how ever do we find this balance and joy that the holidays are supposed to bring us? How can we celebrate without overwhelming a sensory sensitive child?
Let me provide a few examples of what I”m talking about. See my son (and I) have what they call, Auditory Dysfunction. Basically, we are so fine tuned to sound that we can hear EVERYTHING from the buzzing of the appliances, the lights, the outdoor traffic, the birds etc. Even in our quiet little home, often times we feel bombarded. As an adult I have learned over the years how to tune into what is important…and leave the rest behind (sort of). Alas, my 5 yr old hasn’t. To him, he can’t figure out what to focus on, or what is MOST important to focus on. So while you’re talking to him, he’ll be listening to YOU, the birds, the fridge, the cars, the wind, etc all at once. Sound exhausting? IT IS!! trust me! Being a sound sensitive creature is intense, and challenging.
Ok, now lets add to that shall we? He also olfactory dysfunction…sensitivity to smells. So when the laundry is being washed, he knows, not because he sees it, because he smells, it! When food is being cooked, he knows and when aunty wearing heavy perfume comes in the room, he knows. So when you’re at a holiday dinner table and there are at least a good 2 dozen scents and smells going on, you guessed it, he’s on overload.
Now lets add some more…..Visual input dysfunction…yup, he’s hyper sensitive to LIGHT as well. Think florescent lights oscillating, Christmas lights blinking on trees, cars driving by in cities reflecting off the walls, TV screens flickering etc…
Ok and some more….over responsive vestibular dysfunction. This is where your neuro receptors aren’t receiving enough information, and so you basically CAN’T sit still without long periods of sensory integration exercises, which is what his body is craving. Movement is what his body is NEEDING on a physiological level.
So when you add all of these on top of one another they seem to create what they call Emotional Regulation Dysfunction. You’re so damn flooded by sensory input you can’t control your emotional impulses because your body goes into fight or flight mode.You burst at the seams into tears/tantrums and any number of crazy “behaviors” in order to cope with being overwhelmed.
So lets put the typical family visit in context with my sensory sensitive child and me.
We drive for hours to get there (lack of movement.) We arrive to a busy house with lots of children running, playing, adults chatting, food cooking, presents being unwrapped, Christmas songs playing, decorations reflecting, blinking, battery operated toys going blaring fire truck noises, TV blaring, kids crying, paper crinkling, scented candles light, scented chemical cleaners used, and grandma’s perfume.
By the end of a 3hr visit, my child is so over-stimulated, fired up, excited, overwhelmed and unable to process this experience in any positive manner. Hence the tears and behaviors he has for the next two days. This does NOT sound like much fun does it?
Alas, we seem to put ourselves through this every year, and this year I’m asking myself WHY? and more importantly HOW? can we make these family experiences more digestible for ourselves without falling into a bucket of tears by the end of the day?
I remember growing up myself being a light and sound sensitive child. My mother would take me to the Ice Capades and just like that I’d spike a fever, throw up and have to go home. Same thing with sleep overs, birthday parties, the fair….basically any large gathering. This my friends is WHY I’ve become such a hermit over the year, and why I can see myself and my family redoing holidays in our own sensory sensitive way which would include:
CLOTH WRAPPING PAPER! not only eco friendly, but also cuts down on that freaking crinkly noise that gets everyone all amped up!
A SIMPLE ORGANIC MEAL: Lets celebrate the seasons with ACTUAL FOOD! Hand harvested, hand grown FOOD, not processed sugars, factory farmed animals, and high fructose corn syruped drinks. Treats can be as simple as handmade cookies and fudge, minus all the crap in them. I don’t want my kids so sugared up they can’t even be present enough to hold a conversation with the family, they have enough of a problem being present as it is without adding chemicals into the overload!
FEWER PEOPLE IN ONE PLACE: MORE ONE ON ONE TYPE GATHERINGS to cut down on the overwhelmingness of it all and to grow closer bonds with those we choose to do so with. We’re planning to host a few smaller gatherings with our closest family and opt out of the large gathering style family shindigs, and maybe go as adults alone if need be.
NO TV! We don’t have a TV at home, alas our families do and they LOVE their TV’s and love watching the game. While a tradition in its own right, it is not something I can put my kids through. (have you seen the violent/sex based commercials that are on between the game? Not what I’m wanting my child to pick up on!) We’d rather turn it off and tune into ONE ANOTHER! I mean isn’t that what family is all about?
NO CHEMICALS IN THE HOUSE! Forget those cinnamon scented candles! Not only are they super bad for the environment, but they’re seriously NOT ok for my kid (and myself) to breathe in all day. I get migraines from them after just a few hours. Let’s just brew some apple sauce with ACTUAL cinnamon ok?
SIMPLE NATURE BASED GIFTS! What ever happened to giving someone a jar of your canned sauce for a gift? Or a cool rock you found? Or some hand made item made with love? Maybe a wooden toy, or a book or a gift card to your favorite co-op? THIS is what we’re wanting to support. NOT made in china, battery operated sensory overloaded toys that contribute to child labor, and corporate greed.
FEWER DECORATIONS!: Do we really need blinking lights in our house to celebrate the warmth of the season? We’re choosing to keep things simple with a few light candles and less visual stimulation. A simple green tree decorate with dried oranges, popcorn strings and a few handmade ornaments.
These are just a few of the ways I’m hoping to make this year’s holidays less of a HOLLY DAZE! I’m curious how all of you with sensory sensitive children (or yourself) handle family gatherings? What tips, tricks have you learned to find the JOY and CELEBRATION and LOVE of the season without getting overwhelmed?