New Experiences Can Be Scary For Unique Learners

This time of year brings new experiences that seem exciting but may cause distress to your child. This might look like acting out or misbehaving, but it is typically a reaction that indicates they are overloaded.

Multiply that overload by 10 and you can just picture the meltdown your unique learner may have. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a jolly holiday season.

Calming Holiday Chaos

The holiday season can be particularly trying for parents of unique learners. These parents want to make special memories with their children. Their typical learners are excited to go see Santa, to tromp around the woods or a tree farm to get a Christmas tree and attend class parties. Their unique learner may be completely overwhelmed, and even terrified, by the same experiences.

So, what can you do to make it special for everyone, and not lose your mind in the process?

Be aware that there is definitely a “too much” threshold for unique learners. Understand that there may be things you have to miss because of this. When you know that an event will be upsetting for your child (and therefore to you), take steps to minimize the discomfort or make different plans. These events are supposed to be fun, not punishment.

The good news is that there are strategies you can use to minimize the holiday chaos. Here are five that can help make this a holly, jolly Christmas.

Preparing for New Experiences

When entering a new space, such as a store to visit Santa or a party at a friend’s house, give your unique learner a heads-up about what they can expect in this new space. Before you enter, tell them what they might see and how they should act in this space. Give them something to compare the event to. For example, “This is like when we go to the library and have to use walking feet and quiet voices” or “Waiting for Santa is like when we had to wait in line at the water slides. It’s okay to use your talking voice, but we must practice patience while we wait our turn”.

Also, since some children are slow to warm up, try to arrive early at events and parties so your child can adjust while it is relatively calm.

What to Do When Your Child Is Distracted, Unable to Focus, and/or Crabby

While it seems counter-intuitive to introduce movement when what your child seems to need is a nap, this can be the very thing that calms the chaos. These are specific sensory activities that regulate different sensory systems (experiment to see what your child enjoys – this will likely give you a clue as to what will help them the most):

Activities that let them feel gravity are soothing to the emotions:
• Summersaults
• rolling down a hill
• swinging
• crawling
• crab walking
(Avoid making it a competition – the focus here is on integrating their sensory system.)

Weight-bearing activities are very calming to the body and organizing to the brain. Try an imaginary game of “marching band” with stomping feet. Heavy chores are very helpful – have them hold something heavy to “help” you – the laundry soap, a box of decorations – obviously tailored to their size and age. You want them to be able to lift it with a little bit of effort. Catching a weighted ball or beanbag is also helpful (see an example of a weighted ball on my website).

When Your Child Is Too Sped Up/Excited Either Mentally or Physically

At home: Wrap your child in a soft blanket, dim the lights, speak in a low, steady voice and slowly and rhythmically rock him or her. A brushing program can also help. There are special brushes available on my website, but you can use a soft scrub brush (like a nail brush) or a soft make-up brush and lightly move the brush down the arms and legs. Make sure you brush in the direction the hair grows and not against it.

Not at home: slowly and gently push on the small joints in the fingers, apply pressure along the length of their arms (gentle hug using your hands around their arm); gently “squish” the hands; hug them in a way that applies gentle pressure to their body.

When Your Child Is Increasingly Irritated by Clothing, Tags, Socks, and Other Fabrics

This indicates increased sensitivity in their tactile systems. The brushing program described above can be helpful in decreasing the sensitivity (see this brush on my website). Also, let them play with tactile materials such as clay, play dough (or cookie dough), paper mache, or finger paints. Putting rice or beans in a container with small toys to find with their fingers is a fun sensory activity.

When Your Child is Having Difficulty Controlling Emotions

This can appear as either losing their temper or shutting down participation and withdrawing completely. When children are too revved up they might be more emotional (this is the meltdown that comes out of the blue), irritable or even angry, and/or exhibiting “over-the-top” or “bad” behavior. These children need calming activities, such as watching a movie or reading. Children who are withdrawing partially or completely or seem listless or tearful will need to participate in activities that are revving, such as a dance party, outside march, or some of the activities above to help them feel gravity.

Want to know more? My book, Unique Learner Solutions, is available on my website and on Amazon. It is packed with information and strategies to help you navigate life with your unique learner. Interested in knowing more? Find information about the book HERE.

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