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Sensory Overload: Handling the Hectic Holidays with an IDD

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — December 18, 2020 — 3 min read

Holidays can be especially difficult for people with sensory sensitivities, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDDs.

More lights, more sounds, more people, or disrupted routines – all of it can lead to a crisis for someone with an IDD diagnosis.

Planning ahead is key to ensuring everyone has fun. Having a backup plan can help prevent a crisis for someone with an IDD.

Prepare to have a Plan B for times when things don’t go as planned. Talk about your best plan. Then discuss a second plan that you can control.

If Aunt Sue can’t visit as expected, go to Plan B. Watch your favorite movie or eat your favorite snack. Your back up plan should be something the person with the IDD helped decide ahead of time.

Try asking this:

“What would you like to do if our first plan doesn’t work out?”

Knowing what to expect can also keep everyone happier through the holidays. Prepare the person with the IDD for what will happen. What will you see, hear, taste or smell?

Say something like this:  

“When we go to the party, there may be lots of people talking and loud music.”

This is a great time to use the Plan B strategy.

This year, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has asked that North Carolinians limit their gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This may also be upsetting if anticipated holiday plans or routines have changed.

Try asking this:

“What can we do instead? How about a video chat with your favorite uncle? Or what if we make a special craft or card that we send to him.”

Be mindful of specific sensitivities.

If lights or sounds cause difficulty, choose a different activity where those won’t be a problem.

Here are some ideas of what you can do to help with specific sensitivities:

Sounds: If you attend an event with lots of noise, bring ear plugs, noise-blocking headphones or headphones with calming music.

Space: If you attend a socially distanced event with others, find a quiet, safe space to retreat to if you or your loved one gets over-stimulated by the sights and sounds.

Movement: At events that require sitting still and being quiet, include time to move in your plans – jumping jacks, wall push-ups, touching your toes.

Touch: Dress for comfort and avoid conflicts over what to wear ahead of the event.

Food: Bring food your child will eat. Don’t rely on a party host to have choices that are agreeable to your child.

Routines: Prepare for changes by talking about what will happen. Use pictures. List activities by the hour, day or week depending on the individual’s needs.

Relax: A person with an IDD may sense and mirror your stress level or mood, so remember that this is supposed to be fun and relax. 

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