Holidays Can Be Sensory Overload for Kids With Autism

Expert offers tips for parents on how to help children stay calm during hustle and bustle of the season

SUNDAY, Nov. 23, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The holidays can be a challenge for families of children with autism because sensory overload can trigger major meltdowns, an expert says.

"Holidays with family can be dicey under the best of circumstances, but when you have children with special needs, some care must be taken," Varleisha Gibbs, an occupational therapy professor at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, said in a university news release.

"It's best to let your hosts or visitors know what special requirements are needed to make sure your child and entire family have a pleasant experience," she advised.

Before a holiday gathering, inform family and friends about any triggers that might set off your child, such as not liking to be hugged, or a child's need to spend time alone in a quiet location to relax and calm down.

If your child has food sensitivities or dislikes certain foods, bring the child's favorite foods with you so he or she has something to eat during the meal, Gibbs suggested.

It's also a good idea to bring a backpack full of sensory items, such as headphones and music, toys and chewing gum. These will help calm your child if he or she feels overwhelmed and needs some "me time."

Dress your child in clothing he or she prefers, and pack sunglasses and ear plugs for those who are hypersensitive to their surroundings.

If you host a gathering that includes people unfamiliar with your child's condition, speak to them beforehand about some of the unusual behaviors your child may exhibit. This will help your guests from being alarmed or uncomfortable, Gibbs said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

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