12 Tips for Hosts Entertaining Holiday Guests with Sensory Processing Challenges
Holiday season is now upon us. Maybe this week you are packing your bags to hit the road to attend a family dinner or perfecting your shopping list as host of the perfect event. Maybe you’ve worked hard planning your holiday menu, taking into account guest food allergies and vegetarian preferences.
You think a lot about your guest’s experience, I challenge you to consider your guest’s surroundings, specifically of the sensory variety.
What is Sensory Processing?
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition where sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. SPD affects the way a child processes messages sent to his or her brain from any of the five main senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. He or she often cannot handle sensory stimulation and often fixates on a single event or activity as a coping mechanism for SPD.
SPD is more common than you might expect. A 2009 study suggests that as many as 1 in every 6 children experience sensory processing symptoms that impact everyday life functions (Ben-Sasson, Carter, Briggs-Gowen, 2009). Chances are you have at least one child, if not more, attending your holiday festivities who are struggling with sensory challenges or SPD.
For these parents, family members and caregivers, the stress is magnified even greater during the holiday season where friends, family members and work colleagues host holiday receptions, dinners and get-togethers. These events are held outside their family homes. Their location and environment are unknowns, often creating anxiety not only for the child but also for the caregivers who will also be attending the gathering.
Below ten parents and medical experts weigh in to help you prepare your home and your holiday gathering for those with sensory processing challenges not just SPD.
1. Ask Guests Directly.
Get an understanding of what the individual’s sensory difficulties are before the party begins and keep environmental triggers to a minimum if possible. This might mean keeping music at a low volume, adjusting the brightness of the lights, not over-decorating, and/or not using any kind of noisemaking party favors (i.e., noisemakers for New Year’s). Everyone has different needs so it’s important to find out what they are and minimize those triggers accordingly.
-Tom Flis, Sr. Behavior Specialists with Sheppard Pratt Health System.
2. Don’t Forget Food Sensitivity.
Some children cannot handle certain textures or food touching. Don’t push food on the child. Allow the parent or child to select and plate their own food if possible.
-Julie and Tony Bombacino of Real Food Blends.
3. Provide a Rough Schedule of Events for Your Guests.
Have an idea of how the party will progress. Are there scheduled activities? Might they be over-stimulating? Let the guest know beforehand and have them decide whether or not they’d like to participate.
-Aviva Weiss, CEO and Founder of Fun and Function.
4. Outdoor Activities Offer a Great Break.
Utilize the outdoors: nature is very calming to many kids with sensory issues. Is there are park or playground nearby your home where family could take a break? Let them know…even on a cold December day, bundling up and taking a 15-minute walk can be helpful.
-Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, Mom & Editor of The New Normal.
5. Create an Activity Area for Arts, Crafts and Other Sensory Activities.
Provide options for your guests. A craft or activity table is a great way to provide children a break from the busy holiday activities. Include a variety of craft options like coloring, pipe cleaners and paper cutting.
-Lamarque Polvado, CEO and Founder of CareStarter.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.