People and families look forward to the holidays with all the visiting, singing, reminiscing and playing. It would be wonderful if everyone could enjoy it. But those with auditory and other sensory processing problems find this time stressful and a mixed blessing, at best.
The sounds of the holidays include loud music, bells and the noises of crowds.
The sights of the holidays include blinking lights and lots of people.
The activities of the holidays include uninvited and unexpected touch and the hugs and press of crowds.
The songs of the holidays are supposed to be pleasant. For those with auditory processing issues they can be painful. Religious services, caroling, and music concerts are part of this potentially unpleasant experience. The unexpected bells are frightening. They can’t decipher the lyrics. The music sounds intrusive.
The visual aspects of the holidays are eagerly anticipated by most. However some with sensory processing issues perceive it differently. The blinking lights, or an abundance of any lights at all, like the beautiful displays outside homes, can overload the visual processing system. Two typical responses are “shutting down”, which looks like they are not connected or participating in the joyful experience, or over responding, which can look like increased activity levels, distractibility and overly enthusiastic and uncontrollable responses.
Hugs and kisses are typically a welcomed part of the holidays, but not for those with sensory processing difficulties. This is also true for the press of crowds in gathering places. This kind of unexpected touch is unwelcome and can provoke outbursts and swinging or flailing to “rescue” themselves from the stimulation.
What can you do? Maybe we all can’t enjoy the holidays in exactly the same way, but that doesn’t mean that the holidays cannot be enjoyed by one and all. You just need to anticipate the circumstances in order to make the celebrations meaningful to a sensory challenged person.
🎁 ask if they want to be included
🎁 watch for signs of difficulty and respond by giving them a break from the stimuli or ending the activity
🎁 keep the experience brief
🎁 be sensitive to their needs and plan for them accordingly
🎁 bring tools to enhance their comfort such as noise canceling headphones
🎁 educate family and friends on how to get the best possible response from the individual such as don’t hug without warning
With a little planning and consideration, this can be a great holiday season for everyone!