Holiday season can be overstimulating, especially for kids

The parents of children with autism often become accustomed to dealing with the effects of their child’s overstimulation. Yet as we enter the oft-frenzied period of the holidays, many parents will begin to sympathize and wonder if their child fits on the autism spectrum.

Considering that 7.4 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 7 have been diagnosed at some point with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and another 1 in 110 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, there are a lot of children out there who struggle with high-sensitivity and sensory-processing challenges. Under the right circumstances, just about any child can be overstimulated.

Parents may suspect their child is overstimulated when the child becomes cranky, unusually needy and demanding, easily frustrated, has trouble adapting or transitioning from one activity to the next or develops seemingly endless energy. When this happens, parents can borrow tips from the autism or ADHD parent’s toolkit.

Some (easy) things to try when your child is overstimulated:

Try a big bear hug or a “burrito,” wrapping your child in a blanket. For a child who is overstimulated, this all-over pressure can actually help calm the sensory overload. At the very least, you get to show your child some well-deserved affection.

Engage in activities that give input to the senses: Bake cookies and have your child mix with his or her hands, play music, pretend to be different animals, blow bubbles, push the vacuum cleaner or lift (light or empty) boxes, swing on the swings or use aromatherapy.

Make sure your child gets enough sleep. With all the parties and events around the holidays, it’s easy for all of us to fall behind in our sleep patterns. If your child is having trouble sleeping, you can try white-noise machines, relaxation CDs, weighted blankets or lava lamps. (Admit it – you have one or know someone who does!)

Feed your child a healthy diet. Everyone has different foods that cause sensitivities or inflammation, so you may have to use trial and error to determine what works for your child. The most common allergy-producing foods are milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. Other common inflammatory foods include sugar, processed and red meats, polyunsaturated vegetable oils, food additives and alcohol, which you probably aren’t feeding your children anyway.

Children aren’t the only ones who get overstimulated or have sensory-processing issues. Adults can use these same tips with excellent results.

If you suspect that your child’s inattention, crying, frustration or other symptoms are more than just the stimulations of this season, you may want to discuss with your pediatrician whether a sensory-processing or sensory-integration disorder is involved. Many occupational therapists offer sensory-integration therapy.

If your child is younger than 3, you can call San Juan Kids at 385-3498 for a free screening and evaluation. Eligible children may qualify for therapeutic interventions at no or low cost.

Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.