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Helping Children with Sensory Integration Issues Cope During the Holidays

Submitted by on December 23, 2011 – 1:00 pmOne Comment

Support for special needs children: dealing with sensory integration issues during the holidays

by Carolyn Federer

As soon as a few leaves start turning colors, wonderful images and sensations start forming in my mind. I can practically feel the crispness in the air and imagine the smell of  wood-burning fireplaces. The thought of sweet treats makes my mouth water in anticipation. I am ready to put on my special sweater and floppy slippers. Once my favorite music is playing in the background and the scented candles are lit, I feel inspired and eager to welcome the holiday season.

All my wrapping paper, bows and shiny decorative items will come out of the box so I can spread them all on the floor. Thank goodness we bought all those flickering lights on sale last year. The old ones got so tangled, we had to throw them away.  I find myself smiling when I sip some hot chocolate with extra marshmallows. As I bite into a freshly baked gooey cookie bar with crunchy walnuts, I look at it all, in wonder.

Molly experiences the holiday season differently from her mom, especially when she keeps making her put on that uncomfortable sweater.  It has all kinds of bumps and those crazy socks with the stripes…..They have so many knots from the yarn changing colors that Molly pulls them off as soon as they go on.  The loud music playing over and over again is hurting her ears badly and those scented candles aren’t making things any easier.

The crunching of the cellophane and wrapping paper is so sharp, her skin hurts just looking at it. Molly keeps turning the lights off to make all those loud colors, jiggly shapes and shiny things go away.  “At least the horrible snake with blinking spots won’t come out of his cave for a while”.

The scent of hot chocolate coming from the kitchen has a calming effect on little Molly.  Except that once those lumpy~ spongy~ white~ icky things touch her tongue, she will spit them out. The rocks in the bricks are too spiky and now it all tastes very brown. She throws them as far as she can. The soothing moment has come and gone in an instant. All she can do is scream back at all the things that are hurting her.  The next time her mommy says, “Let’s go shopping!”, you can be sure Molly will be hiding under the bed hoping she’s never found.

Things tend to go from bad to worse as the holidays approach for those who, like Molly, cope with sensory integration dysfunction.  Holidays for some are nostalgic, warm and comforting, but for others it’s traumatic at best. Even those who love the sights and sounds of the holidays can become overwhelmed in stores by the constant influx of holiday music, decorations and lights.

By simplifying and reducing scents, sounds and sights, you will allow the intended peaceful season to enter your life. Adjusting things at home will make a tremendous difference for everyone, especially those affected by sensory irritants.

Create A Sanctuary

Music playing, fireplace crackling, kids playing, people talking, pots and pans banging, before you know it, your house quickly reaches the highest note on the scale and there is no place to hide. Our solution is creating a ‘quiet room’ this season, a peaceful place where one can get away, relax and re calibrate. Play soft music or listen to the muffled sounds of joy behind the closed door.  Avoid any holiday related decor in this room, set it up as a visual spa by having low lights, gentle colors and comforting textures including a soft blanket to snuggle up in.  Make this a nurturing space for those who need to get away from all the hustle and bustle.

Unexpected Sensory Irritants

For those with sensory integration issues, the fewer scents, sounds and sights the better.  Stimulus is processed differently and uniquely.  Bright colors and patterns may be perceived to have loud sounds, textures may create pain. So imagine how the traditional decor translates for some.  Since a fireplace produces mesmerizing shapes, sounds, lights and scents, let that substitute the need for flickering lights, overflowing decorations and perfumed potpourri.

It’s All In The Packaging

Awareness of holiday irritants includes gifts themselves and their presentation.  Purchase toys with pleasurable textures, less plastic, flashing lights and eliminate sound effects. That alone will prove helpful in maintaining a peaceful environment.  To complete this gentle experience, use paper bags as wrapping paper with the brown side seen on the outside. Tie the packages with non~shinny, subdued colored ribbon.  It will only require a simple pull to reveal the gift inside, no ripping or tearing sounds. For a fun craft later, the paper can be used to draw or paint on once the novelty of the gifts wears off.

Carolyn Feder is the founder and owner of Sensory Interior Design. By combining her space organization and interior design techniques, she creates spaces that get you in touch with inner peace and focus year round. For more information about consultations, lectures, workshops and coaching, visit or email:

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One Comment »

  • Raquel says:

    Thank you for publishing this article. It’s good to understand what those in our lives go through. I appreciate the hints on the gift wrappings and sounds. I will definitely use this information as I wrap my presents.

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