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overstimulation

How to Tame Holiday Stress

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

The holidays are supposed to bring joy, but they also bring a lot of pressure, expectations, and stress. Planning and preparing can take months, and balancing this planning with school events, holiday parties, and our every day demands can be a lot to handle. That said, there are some basic things that we can to do manage holiday stress and focus on the things that matter most, including the following:

Identify and prioritize your values. Reflect and decide ahead of time what is most important to you this holiday season. Whether it is being with family, following through with traditions, giving back to others, or something else, knowing what you care most about will help you know where to put your time and energy.

Simplify where you can. Once you know your priorities, cut out things that are not in line with these. We tend to go a bit above and beyond at the holidays, and we often find ourselves doing things just because we always have done so, not because we want to. Invest your time where it matters most. This year, I cut out holiday cards. While cute, they are time consuming and the majority likely go straight to the trash. Creating cute waste is not my priority. Sorry, grandparents – maybe next year.

Take focus off of gift giving as much as possible. Overindulgent gift giving is not only financially burdensome and time consuming, but it is also likely not in line with your intrinsic holiday values. Streamline your gift giving where able. For example, adults draw names instead of buying for everyone, set a limit for the number of gifts per person, or buy group gifts and experiences. In our house, when buying for the kids, we try to stick with: one thing you want, one thing you need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read. Sometimes we stray a bit, but it helps keep our priorities focused and manage the children’s expectations.

Communicate expectations. Tell your family or friends what they can expect from you this holiday season. This should include talking with your children about how your family will celebrate the holidays, and how it may be different from what others do. If you know you’ll be invited to three holiday dinners, or if someone may expect your visit to be longer than you desire, get ahead of it and tell them your anticipated schedule and plans.

Pick your battles. The holidays are overwhelming for everyone, including children. They may try to manage their stress by exerting control, including pushing back against holiday traditions or expectations. Before asking things of them, remind yourself of your priorities and values. If you don’t really care whether your child wears slacks versus sweatpants during Christmas dinner, don’t pick that battle.

Provide familiarity. To help manage the uncertainty and stimulation of holiday festivities, do what you can to provide children with some familiarity, such as having some preferred foods in the dinner buffet or giving them a designated break away from the chaos to play alone without the pressure to socialize.

In sum, holiday stress is a given, but identifying your holiday values and priorities will allow you to make decisions and create expectations that will help mitigate some of this stress and allow you and your family to enjoy the season.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

Back to School: Tips for the Sensory-savvy Parent

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L
NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist

Just like that, summer is over and it is finally time for children to head back to school! This year might look a little different as we move from remote learning and ease back into the school building full time. For children with sensory processing issues, the school building poses a great deal of anxiety as they try to deal with various sensory stimuli. The noisy bus, smells of the cafeteria, and visually overwhelming classroom are just a few examples of the daily overstimulating experiences a student with sensory processing issues encounters. Don’t fret! We will break down the school day and the core sensory systems that are impacted along with strategies to help your student succeed.

Starting the Day: Auditory Processing

As the day starts, many children hop on the bus and ride to school. This means they are encountering a noisy, chaotic vehicle filled with many other children. You might see kids respond negatively by running away, crying, or holding hands over their ears to block out the noise. Startling easily, the bus ride can be a stressful start that will set the tone for the rest of the day for students with sensory issues. It is important to utilize different strategies to prepare your child for the bus. Try these ideas to help with auditory processing:

  • Provide over the ear noise canceling headphones to wear on the bus ride
  • Provide calming music on an iPod, etc. to listen to during bus ride
  • Wear a weighted vest or lap pad during bus ride
  • Provide heavy work input to the student’s body in the morning before entering the bus

Learning in the Classroom: Visual Processing

Walking into the classroom, there are bookcases lined up, posters on the walls, desks in rows, and lots of bright lights. When it comes to visual processing, children respond in different ways. Some children avoid these stimuli, while others seek out visual input. Squinting, blinking, and covering their eyes are just some of the quick fix responses to the bothersome lights. Some kids have trouble paying attention if there are too many things to look at. To some children, the flickering lightbulb in the corner of the ceiling is much more interesting than whatever the teacher has to say. It is very easy to become distracted and overwhelmed in the visually overstimulating classroom environment. Teachers: try these strategies to help with visual processing:

  • Remove distracting posters, pictures, etc. from the walls
  • Place busy bookcases, lockers, etc. in the back of the room
  • Have easily visually distracted children sit in the front of the room closest to the board
  • Provide a calming corner with a sensory bin filled with items, such as noise cancelling headphones, stuffed animals, lavender lotion, books, etc.

Time for Art Class: Tactile Processing

It is time for art class, and your child freezes at the doorway refusing to enter the room. Glitter and glue are everywhere, and the fear of being dirty strikes again. The feeling of touching messy media can send some children into panic fight or flight mode. This goes well beyond art class’s requirement to interact with different media, often branching out and impacting their ability to participate in social experiences, such as playing on the playground. To avoid overstimulation, prepare your child’s body with these strategies:

  • Prepare the student before art class by reviewing the schedule
  • Provide heavy work breaks, such as wall push-ups before entering the art room
  • Provide a weighted vest or lap pad to use during art class
  • Find adaptations to the art project to decrease interaction with sticky substances (i.e., using glue sticks, spoons to spread glitter, etc.)

Lunch in the Cafeteria: Olfactory and Gustatory Processing

It is now time for lunch. As your child walks into the cafeteria, they look around to find their friends and are greeted with a really strong smell. What is that?! Your child is no longer looking for their friends; instead, they are trying to find a way out because the smell is too overwhelming. Try these strategies to help kids with sensitive noses:

  • Find a place in the cafeteria that your child can eat away from the food serving area (where the smells are the strongest)
  • Provide an essential oil patch or roller ball that the student can smell to calm their body and move their focus away from the cafeteria smell
  • Use essential oils, such as lavender or eucalyptus, which help calm
  • Provide heavy work opportunities before entering the cafeteria to help organize the body

Once your child has gathered their food and found the best place to eat, they sit down and look at their meal. Oh gosh – why does it look so squishy? This sandwich is slimy – that is a big no! The gustatory – or taste system – kicks in, and it does not appear happy. What can we do to help kids with sensitive taste systems? Try these strategies to help make mealtime easier:

  • Provide lunch from home to help control what options the child has to eat during the day
  • Provide crunchy food items, such as pretzels, raw veggies (carrots, peppers, cucumbers, etc.), or popcorn to promote “heavy, organizing input” to the mouth and jaw
  • Provide thick drinks, such as smoothies, to drink through a straw
  • Promote drinking water through a water bottle with a mouth piece, such as those from Camelbak
  • Provide a special treat, such as licorice, Twizzlers, or sucker candy to provide alerting and organizing input

Gym Class Makes Me Nervous: Vestibular and Proprioceptive Processing

Afternoon gym class has arrived, and your student is too afraid to participate. Bumping into the wall, being hit by a ball, or playing in a coordinated group activity is hard for some children. Echoing voices and shoes squeaking on the floor, bright colors and moving objects are enough to overstimulate anyone. With the right environment, gym class can be fun for everyone! Here are some strategies to help with vestibular and proprioceptive processing in gym class:

  • Provide the opportunity for the student to leave the gym. Let them know that if the class becomes too overwhelming they can ask the teacher for a break. Going for a walk to the bathroom or grabbing water is a great, brief break.
  • Adapt games or activities as necessary. Students will be at different skill levels, and physical activity can present unique challenges. Provide simpler options when possible.
  • Create space boundaries. Using visual cues for personal space, and working in small groups can relieve anxiety. Visual cues may also be helpful in showing children where they should position themselves for games and exercises.
  • Provide activities that promote consistent, linear movements instead of sporadic, rotational movements, to help keep these sensory systems organized.

Remember to keep school fun! The school day is where kids spend most of their week, and we want to ensure they have the best experiences possible. Recognize that not all students with sensory processing issues will have the same strengths and difficulties. Meeting a student where they’re at and discovering their specific strengths is the greatest way to set them up for a successful school year! If you have any questions or to learn more about occupational therapy services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

About the Author

Lauren Zeitler is a licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatric occupational and feeding therapy. Ms. Zeitler joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2020 to offer occupational therapy assessment and treatment for children of all ages, as well as to work in conjunction with Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, on the feeding team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.