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Avoid holiday overload

The sights, sounds and smells of the holidays and even the seams in socks -- send some kids into circuit overload. Ideas for making it through family time this season:

Hartley Steiner of Seattle, author of a new children's book, "This is Gabriel Making Sense of School" (Trafford Publishing, $13.95, 2010), writes a blog at about life with her three boys. Although her own mom is supportive, Steiner says a big complaint she hears from parents is that their extended families don't understand the needs of their special-needs children. Her tips for happier family times:

*Create a visual schedule for your child noting what the plan is for the day. Include times they will have to wait, such as presents are opened after Grandma arrives, time for free play with choices listed, and when meal time will be. Keep it where they can see it, and refer to it throughout the day. This is especially important for transitions.

*Fill your child's stocking with morning-friendly food items. Granola bars, breakfast cookies, fruit and nuts are all things your child can eat the moment they open their stocking, plus the different textures of crunchy and chewy will help keep them calm throughout the day.

*If you have guests or are visiting other people, make a "Quiet Time Pack." Put your child's favorite toy, DVD, stuffed animal, weighted blanket, earphones or MP3 player and a favorite snack into a bag that is easily transported or readily available at home. When your child feels overwhelmed or just anxious, he will have what he needs at the ready to retreat to a quiet zone.

*Even in the middle of Christmas chaos, try to keep up with your child's sensory needs. What they crave and want to avoid needs to be addressed.

Occupational therapists at Giant Leaps OT in Valley Cottage, N.Y., agree, and suggest the overly sensitive child needs lots of opportunities for input to muscles and joints. Jumping or activities such as wheelbarrow walking will help; also ask your child to do "work," such as carrying presents or food and beverages to a party.

"Think of their sensory system as the foundation for their mood and stress level," Steiner says.

Steiner's mother, Helen Nickelson, says that as a grandmother of three boys with many different needs, she has come to realize that her life with her grandchildren doesn't look like the one she first imagined. She says it may mean on holidays that some of the children are at the table barefoot, wearing sweat pants, standing instead of sitting, or eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches without the crust and skipping the turkey. She gives this advice for other grandparents:

*Believe your daughter or son when they tell you what challenges their child or children face and what accommodations they need.

*Learn everything you can about your grandchild's diagnosis. If you have a better understanding of what your family is dealing with, you will be able to be more supportive.

*Understand that your child and her family may not be able to come to your home for holidays because the trip would be nearly impossible for your grandchild. The change in routine, the lack of structure may be too much. Also, you may need to stay in a hotel.

*Understand when your grandchild has a meltdown, it is much different than a "fit" and is not the result of bad parenting or lack of discipline.

If possible, take the kids for an afternoon, a night, weekend or longer so your daughter or son can get away, relax and recharge.


Parenting tip

Old, familiar clothes or consignment store outfits may be the best choice for holiday clothes for highly sensitive kids. For new clothes, try the company Soft, which makes bio-washed cotton, tagless clothing designed for children with tactile sensitivity, including seamless socks. For more information, go to

If you have tips or questions, e-mail

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