How to prevent sensory overload at Summer family outings such as village feast:
Village feasts are a staple Summer outing for many Maltese families and can last up to a week of various events. The whole experience of the village feast is fascinating for many children and adults with plenty of food, fireworks and music. However for some families going to the village feast may have an opposite connotation and is avoided at all costs. This is because their child tends to exhibit behavioural issues, heightened anxiety and difficulty to control his reactions while at the feast. Why does this happen and are there ways to help the child participate better in the environment?
A child who has difficulty to process sensory information will have a hard time to keep up with all tactile, auditory, visual and olfactory sensations present. I am sure that many of you can associate the intense smell of sweet and savoury food stalls, the fireworks sounds and the people constantly brushing against you. All this constant bombardment of sensations is very difficult for a child with sensory processing disorder to process. This causes stress, anxiety, and possibly physical pain and results in challenging behaviour or meltdown.
If participating in the village feast is an important part of your family life you need to implement strategies to help your child get used to the environmental demands.
- First of all it is important to prepare your child for the upcoming event by using visual aids such as videos and photos at home. The use of a social story can help your child better understand the places, people and events that are part of the feast.
- You also need to make sure to know the environment and try to avoid places where there is more intense sensations such as higher smell of street food and crowded spots.
- Have some sensory tools handy in your bag which can act as calming tools for example: whistles, bubbles, hand fidgets.
- The use of headphones and sunglasses can be used to lessen the impact of auditory and visual information during fireworks.
- Choose your time when to go to the feast and going early before a lot of people are in the area might help your child get used to the incoming sensations
- Keep your child’s sleeping and food routine during the feasts week. The disruption in routine will make it for your child to keep up with these sensations.
- If your child is a picky eater and you are invited to parties make sure that he eats at home and avoid stressing him out to try the party food.
- Be sensitive to your child’s reactions and move away from the environment in case you start noticing heightened anxiety levels, extreme irritability, restlessness or heightened activity levels. That might be a sign that your child will go into meltdown soon.
- Carry out calming sensory activities before going to the event. Some include linear movement by bouncing or rocking on a therapy ball and resistive activities such as playing tug of war or doing the wheelbarrow walk.