Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

November 28, 2016

Tips and Tricks for Holiday Travel

By: Katie Hoelting, OTS (Supervised by: Ashley Glasser, MS, OTR/L)
  • Holiday travel is already stressful, but some children might find it particularly challenging.
  • Sensory processing is how we take in and react to various sensory information from our bodies and our environment.
  • There are ways to help kiddos who are particularly fidgety or distracted and ways to help those who are over-stimulated and need an escape.

The holidays can be a time of hustle and bustle for many families. All this activity can be overwhelming with schedule changes, lots of people, and unfamiliar environments. It is important to keep in mind your kiddos’ sensory needs as your family enjoys this special time of year. Sensory processing is the way a person receives sensory information from his/her environment, and how they react to this information. This can be how they register movement, sense their body in space, see, hear, taste, smell, and feel everything around them. This information is relayed from our senses to our brain and influences our actions and behaviors.

When a child is able to take in and understand the sensory information around them independently or with help, they can participate in activities, pay attention, remain calm, and focus. All people process sensory information differently, for example some people love the warmth of snuggling up close to the fire under a pile of grandma’s quilts, while others may find this stifling. This variability means we have to learn to read our kiddos’ cues for when they are feeling the need for different sensory experiences. Some of these can be distractibility, anxiety, fidgeting, aggression, and disengagement. Sensory experiences are so personal, and there is no exact science, so often solutions come from trial and error. As you plan for the holidays, here are a few things to keep in mind for those loved ones that may need special sensory attention.

Tricks for when your little ones may need more sensory input: Try to bring window clings to stick to car/plane windows. It may also be helpful to give kiddos’ tasks to be Mom and Dad’s little helper, which can give opportunities to move. Create a holiday themed scavenger hunt, or bring a squishy seat for your child to sit on to allow movement. Some children may benefit from leg support during long flights (book, stool) to know where their body is in space.

Tricks for when your little ones may need less sensory input:Bring noise canceling headphones/separate music or movie to listen to. It may be helpful to find a quiet place at host’s home for the child to go if they need a break. Parents have told us that they try to make a fort in the car or at the house for a fun opportunity to reduce bright lighting or loud noises. Position the child in an area of the room or plane that is quiet and less visually busy. Also, try to take a trip to the park early in the morning with only a couple family members, in order to allow playtime in a less overwhelming environment.

Tips to keep in mind when traveling:You may need to adjust the amount of legroom based on your child’s needs. Try to build in opportunities to move by planning stops along the way to sightsee or take a quick walk. Bring familiar toys, clothing, bedding, and snacks from home to keep the routine as consistent as possible. Lastly, plan clothing ahead of time for easy navigation through airport-security, especially if your child does not like to be barefoot or remove certain items.

Safe Travels!

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