Stress free Holiday Season- An OT perspective Written by Sumanta Das   Created: Tuesday, 03 December 2013 03:57   Category: Others

The Holiday season is around the corner and it’s a time to spread cheer and happiness. However, for parents with kids on the Autism spectrum, it may also be a challenging time with children getting overwhelmed with sensory overload! So here are some tips to a hopefully stress free Holiday season.


Decorations are beautiful but at the same time, some of them can lead to subtle sensory stimulation which over time may become too much for the children to handle.Some ideas to prevent this sensory overload:

• If you put on lights, try to get those which would stay on instead of blinking on and off.

• Ornaments that have glitter on them may reflect the tree lights and appear too bright for the child

• Same principle applies to tinsel – tree lights or other bright lights can give a blinding glare when they shine on the tinsel, making it very uncomfortable for a child sensitive to light. If you go for tinsel, hang it in moderation or away from bright lights.

•  Decorations that make sound are OK as long as a person can have control on them, e.g. one that makes holiday music when a button/part is pressed is better than one that is activated by a sensor going off off when someone passes by.

• Give the child control by letting them help decorate the tree – it is fun for them and knowing that they put the decoration on decreases the surprise element from the sensory feedback they get. From a OT point of view, it is fine motor work too!


• Try to get a head start on the shopping when most people have not started their Holiday shopping yet…it would give the children a crowd free outing.

• If you want to take the kids to the store to get an idea of what they’d like, go at a non-rush hour. This would give them the time to look at the toys/books etc. instead of getting distracted by the people/noise around them.

• There’s nothing wrong with shopping from catalogues/online!


With so many of our children having allergies, sensitivities to certain food items and others on special diets, it is important to make sure that only the right things are being given to the children. The simplest way is to tell family/friends not to feed your children anything. Or, ask them to check with you before giving anything to them to eat. It may be difficult at first but once people understand the importance of not changing the children’s dietary habits, they will stay on board with you.

Visiting family/friends:

• Explain to the host before the visit that the child may get overwhelmed at some point because of new surroundings, lots of new people etc.

• The child may not be able to hug the other family members and that’s OK…when forced in a situation where a hug/kiss is expected for a cousin/grandparents and others, the child may do it but get so uncomfortable that his sensory overload behaviour would escalate. It would be preferable to just be polite and thank the person giving the present.

• If you find your child getting overwhelmed and acting out, find a quiet area or safe zone where he can calm down. Let the child as well as the family know that it not a time out…the child is not being punished for his behaviour but being helped to find someplace where he can calm his senses. In the end, it boils down to some adjustments… a little adjustment in expectations this season could lead to an important part of the year go by without many meltdowns.

And as time goes by you’ll see that your family and friends will soon learn what not to feed your children, while your children will slowly develop coping skills to handle all the sensory stimulation thrown at them during the Holidays.

We would love to hear if you have any special tricks that make this season easier for your children with Autism and other sensory challenges.

Happy Holidays!!!

Transitions – a different perspective Written by Support Desk   Created: Friday, 06 September 2013 15:48   Category: Others

As the schools reopens this week, we often hear parents and teachers looking for an easier way of handling transitions – be it from homes to cars, into classrooms, between classes or back to home.

• As a therapist, have you had a very productive session with a child, only to watch them run around the waiting room after the session has ended and you are trying to talk to the parents?
• As a teacher, have you had a child who is handling himself “well” during outdoor/physical activities such as recess or PE sessions (where loud voices, touching, bumping and running are permitted) but who would continue to bring this behavior into the class where it is not permitted?
• As a parent, do you find that you’re sometimes struggling because a high-demand activity such as the morning routine before a new school term has gone well because you have prepared your child for it, while a relatively routine activity such as getting into the car afterwards has not?

We are always looking at “getting ready” for our children with sensory processing challenges. As therapists, while preparing for our sessions, we have ready what each child needs in order to be at an optimal place for sensory-motor learning. As parents, we have learned what works for our child to be at their best, depending on the upcoming task or demand. This is termed a front loading approach where we prepare the environment in an activity to encourage successful participation for the child.

Everyone is focused on transitions, and how difficult they can be for these children. As a therapist as well as a parent, I think we need to reflect further on the disengagement from an activity. Though the behaviours are observed during the transitions, I believe the source of the challenge is a child who has not truly disengaged from the activity occurring first. We see this at home often with our two year old, Tanay. Tanay is a great kid who works well with meal time routines, bed time routines etc. However, we often see meltdowns when it is time to go to bed, though he is fine once we reach his room and start the routine of pajamas, story, song etc. The issue here is that he is so engaged in the activity before bedtime, that he doesn’t want to end his success/interaction there.

Going back the questions asked to therapists, teachers and parents earlier in this article, if we relook the transition phase in each of the scenarios, it appears as though the child has not disengaged from one activity before being moved onto another, making transitions a challenge.

So what can we do to help a child disengage from the last activity? There have been suggestions to use readily available tools such as timers etc. Timers (visual/auditory or verbal reminders telling a child so many minutes left) let the child know that closure and transition is imminent. Yet I believe children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and other sensory processing challenges need more than these tools to prepare their systems to stop an activity/sensory set.

Perhaps if our sensory diet is front-loaded and back-loaded, the transition will take care of itself. All of us recommend and utilize transition tools, such as fidgets and heavy work, e.g. carrying a backpack when going from one classroom to another. But when inserted in the transition phase, the child is simultaneously expected to perform other new actions that have very different sensory demands from the activity he has just completed; an activity which his central nervous system is still very much engaged in. In contrast, if we were to add another sensory diet phase during the later stages of an activity, and prior to its completion, it would ready the nervous system for a shift-change. The body can begin disengagement from the activity, making our transitional tools more effective, so the child can process the new demands expected of him during the transition. This will require that we, as parents and providers, also disengage ourselves, our tasks, and our conversations before the time is technically “up,” which can be difficult; particularly if the child appears successful in the activity.

I’ll be trying this out over the next few weeks, and I invite you to do so as well. I’d love to hear from you about how it’s going.