Loud noises, bright lights, and changes in routine can be very overwhelming to someone with sensory processing issues. All of these factors can cause sensory overload, and therefore, stress and anxiety. The looming possibility of a sensory overload episode can be unpleasant and difficult for families, especially for the family member who is experiencing it. Here are some tips for helping children manage these challenging situations and environments:
1. Learn the triggers
If you know what your child’s most common triggers are, and you are able to avoid or at least anticipate them, you and he will be much better prepared for what lies ahead. If you know that a potential trigger will be present and there is no way to avoid it, calmly warn your child so he can mentally prepare.
2. Make a plan
Come up with a plan for if and when your child does experience sensory overload and cannot self-regulate. Decide where you will go and what you will do. If you are at someone else’s home, find out ahead of time if there is a room or space where your child can go if she needs to take a break.
3. Create a schedule
Whether you are at home or away, create as much of a schedule as you can. Knowing what’s coming often helps children with sensory issues. Make it clear that you will both need to be somewhat flexible in your execution of the schedule. Still, try to stick to it as much as possible.
4. Ensure a safe space
Wherever you will be, establish a safe, quiet place your child can go when he is feeling overwhelmed. This could be his own bedroom, a guest room, or another isolated part of the house. It should be a place where there are guaranteed to be no surprise sights or sounds.
5. Provide familiarity and necessary tools
If you need to travel, bring along some items that provide your child with a reminder of the comforts of home. Bring some snacks that are regularly eaten, favorite toys, books, stuffed animals, or pictures of family and friends. And of course, if they’re helpful, noise-canceling headphones and calming sensory toys/objects can also help prevent or distract children from sensory overload.