SensationALL top tips for Christmas

For most people Christmas is an exciting time but it usually means a change in routine which, for families with multiple support needs (MSN) can be upsetting and disruptive. Not to mention all the additional sensory experiences such as Christmas lights, music and scents which can be overwhelming.

To help our MSN families, the SensationALL team have shared some top tips to make Christmas a fun experience for everyone:

  • CALENDAR – mark off days with no school or other meaningful words or symbols. Highlight Christmas day and first day back to school.
  • Use a SCHEDULE or checklist to indicate what activities will be completed during the day. Use visuals/symbols to suit individual communication.
  • Plan activities for ENERGY BURNING such as a trip to the park on the swings, inclusive sessions at trampoline park or soft play. Or play indoor games such as hide and seek or a treasure hunt.
  • Build in BREAK TIMES to help with relaxation as well, have a quiet space away from the overwhelming aspects of Christmas. This could be a space with no music and low lighting such as a tent or den in quiet space in the house. Or use relaxation music and calming scents like lavender. You could also use deep pressure such as massage or heavy blankets as a calming strategy.
  • Have your OWN VERSION OF CHRISTMAS – do whatever works best for you, don’t feel you have to conform to tradition or what everyone else is doing! If your child doesn’t want too many presents keep them for the days following Christmas or if they don’t want presents wrapped maybe just use a gift bag. Have what you want for dinner or what you know your person with MSN will eat. Try having a taster of the Christmas meal on small plates to try to reduce stress over different/new foods and textures.
  • Take CALMING RESOURCES such as noise cancelling headphones with or without music or distraction aids such as fidget spinners or bubbles. You may have to allow for a reduced level of tolerance of new, challenging or sensory demanding situations. Some of strategies from our Chill-oot! and Girl’s Groups are perfect e.g. glitter sensory bottles are a fantastic coping tool to support emotional regulation. To make these simply add glue and glitter with warm water to a clear plastic bottle; watch as the glitter slowly swirls with the water. Other great ideas for easy to make coping strategies can be found on Pinterest.
  • SENSORY STORIES – A Christmas themed social story can help to explain the festive season – you can even write your own personalised story, check out this useful guide.

We also can’t forget that this time of year can be equally challenging for siblings as they may have to modify their own excitement or even make sacrifices to suit their siblings with MSN. However, there are simple things you can do to make sure they don’t miss out on the festive feeling; watch a Christmas movie together, do some Christmas baking, have a Christmas shopping trip – most importantly plan some 1-to-1 time for them with a parent. A present or specially created message from their sibling might be appreciated too.

Here are some useful visuals which can be used in the techniques above, as well as December and January calendar sheets for printing to stick the symbols on.

We hope you all have a relaxed, magical time this Christmas!

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SensationALL christmas present ideas

At this time of year, the SensationALL team are often asked for suggestions for Christmas presents or sticking filler ideas for multi support needs children. Our experienced team of Occupational Therapists and Support Workers often spend time researching products, toys and objects to not only use during our groups or at events, but also for training workshops! We have used some of these ideas to put together a starter-for-10 Christmas present list:

Special Needs Toys Website –  this is a great website with sensory specific sections for toys and equipment. From tactile to proprioceptive, this website covers all basis’ for sensory specific presents for unique individuals.

Sequin Snap Bracelet – these reversible sequin snap bracelets are good sensory fidgets that are wearable – our service users in the SensationALL holiday groups and Chill OOT especially loved using these. There are lots of other reversable sequin products such as cushions, pencil cases, backpacks etc that would also make for a great Christmas gift.

Infinity Loop – this is a stainless steel springy slinky for your arm. Our SensationALL service users have loved using these in our Inclusive Social Group and our sensory sessions. A simple but highly enjoyable interactive toy that provides endless fun.

Marks and Spencers Kids Easy Dressing Range – we love the special range of clothes M&S have created which are adapted for children who need extra help. With clothing options for anyone with feeding tubes or if they simply need clothes that are easy to put on and gentle for sensitive skin. The Easy Dressing range aims to help make dressing easier, quicker, more comfortable – and more fun!

Sensory Body Sock – body socks are a great resource to try out for individuals with multiple support needs. The resistant walls of the body sock provide a tactile means of self-referencing that improves body awareness and assists in developing spatial awareness through balance and resistance. At SensationALL we have used body socks in several of our social and emotional regulation groups and lots of the kids love them!

Our last Christmas gift idea is of course, the SensationALL gift card! Available to buy directly from SensationALL by emailing info@sensationall.org.uk or you can buy one from the Old Schoolhouse when you are at one of our groups or events. Each gift card costs £30 and provides 6 hour long sessions at any of our groups! A great gift to access SensationALL’s exciting range of services. #SensationALL

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SensationALL suggestions for Bonfire Night

Bonfire night (like many of society’s popular calendar events) can be anything but enjoyable for many of our unique individuals with support needs. Many who suffer from anxiety and sensory issues can find the unexpected nature of displays very stressful and a trigger for meltdowns. We have put together a few SensationALL suggestions to help make bonfire night a more positive experience.

Preparation

Creating a visual countdown to “out of routine” events can be beneficial to help your child understand not only when bonfire night will take place, but it is also important to build in variability of the event – although it’s one night, chances are there will be displays and random fireworks a few days before and after – using a question mark might be a way of suggesting that there could be some unexpected noises or fireworks.

Creating your own Social Stories are an effective methods to provide guidance and directions for responding to various types of social situations.. They may use images or words to present the situation and can be another good way to prepare your child. It can be beneficial to include any possible sensory or coping strategies in this as well. i.e. “when I feel upset/stressed, I can pull up my hood and use my earphones to listen to my music”.

By their nature fireworks are unpredictable, so try to help your child understand what to expect. Watching videos of firework displays – building up sound levels or demonstrating sparklers in advance could help.

Firework Displays

Some local authorities provide accommodated displays that are suitable for people with disabilities – these might be less crowded and cause less anxiety. Parking some distance from the display and watching from the car is one way to enjoy the visuals without any of the noise. If you go to a big display, you might want to find a quieter spot from crowds. Let your child know how long the display might last/you plan to stay and explain that they can retreat to the car when they have had enough. If you are attending an event for the first time, this might be a very short time. It is best to create a positive experience and possibly using “5 more then car or home” might extend the time, while still ending up on a positive note for next year.

If you are having fireworks in the house, allow your child to watch from inside where it is warm and they can experience the pretty sights without the loud noises. Table top fireworks, quieter fireworks or a virtual one might be a better place to start. Again, consider identifying a safe space or coping strategy – i.e. “when I feel upset/stressed, I can go to my room and use my earphones to listen to my music”.

Sensory Issues

Ear defenders, earphones and swimming ear putty (available from Boots Chemist and online via amazon) can help to block noise and reduce the anxiety that people with sensory issues may experience. Using ear or headphones and music can be a way to include a coping/distraction strategy – as can handheld games/electronics/figit toys.  

  • Bluetooth headphones are our new special toy – especially ones that allow you to talk over music/give instructions/reassurance.
  • Consider the cold for outdoor displays – warm or weighted clothes can also be a great comfort.  Use of hoods and ear muffs might also help.
  • Have back up plan – like a sensory space – explain what their coping options are: back to the car, hide under a hood/blanket/weighted item/put sunglasses on.

Another online resource to look at for Bonfire night is this website with safety advice.

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Top tips for going back-to-school

As the summer holidays draw to a close, the anticipation for the start of school grows. For parents and children alike, the start of school, and all that will come in the first term, can be more than daunting.

Getting used to a new teacher, finding the way around school again, following routines and school structures (which had been long forgotten in the North East summer sunshine or rain) and catching up with friends.

It is a busy and exhausting time for any child, but for those with additional or multiple support needs (ASN/MSNs) it can be especially draining.

Here at SensationALL, we have had our thinking caps on to come up with some of our TOP TIPS for going back to school.

1. Explore Emotions

This is a difficult one to address, but as important as getting the school bag ready and uniform on.

Children with MSNs may feel that they are the only one finding it hard, the only one who doesn’t fit in, the only one forgetting their pencil, jotter, gym kit or the only one feeling scared. The idea of being “the only one” is as untrue as there being a “perfect person”.

Explore the concerns, worries and challenges your child may have: relieving anxieties by talking through situations, particularly those relating to socializing and making new friends.

Discuss and share practical ways they can try to address these concerns. Highlight that their peers are likely to feel the same. They won’t be “the only one” and building awareness that others may feel the same can bring about feelings of inclusion and comfort.

2. Get familiar

For children with sensory sensitivities it is really important to put in the prep work ahead of the school term starting.

Try on new uniforms, cut out labels if required, wash them a few times so they are familiar and soft and build up tolerance by wearing them around the house. This goes for new school shoes too!

Don’t stop at clothing and shoes, try out any new items like water bottles, lunch boxes, school bags, pencil cases etc.

The more familiar and tolerant your child is to the items which will be a constant throughout their school days, hopefully the better they can cope with the range of new sensory inputs they will experience. Remember to include any calming strategy/resource they might have.

3. Organisation

Whether you are helping an older child develop their organisational skills, or you’re organising for a younger child, this will help with the ease of transitioning back into the school day.

Practice getting the bag organised the week before, packed lunch, lunch card, gym kit, use visuals and checklists where appropriate. The smoother the morning operation runs, the lower the stress and anxiety levels all round!

For any child, turning up to school and finding out you’ve forgotten something can cause a great deal of distress and impact learning. Older children should take a very active part in organising themselves for school as this will contribute towards being more independent, and learning these skills young builds confidence and a great foundation for later.

4. Go along beforehand

If your child is starting at a new school, and/or finds settling into different environments challenging, get in contact with the school to go along the week before if possible.

This can be really helpful if physical disability presents an added worry to the child, for example, getting through the corridors, around the playground, getting to the lunch hall and very importantly to most children, actually getting lunch!!!

Identifying safe or quiet areas can also help alleviate anxiety and help develop proactive It can act as a trial run before the hustle and bustle, a good opportunity to familiarise and to try out different strategies to help your child throughout the school day.

5. Visual structure

Try putting together a picture wall chart for home, showing your child each day or the week ahead, what’s expected on each day, i.e. gym or maths or reading. After school activities can go up here if there are any and weekend ones too.

This can help children see the “bigger picture”, that maybe Tuesday isn’t a great day, but on Thursday they get to go to the gym hall or book store. A week can seem a long time, but breaking it down into days can help your child know what to expect and look forward to the days ahead.

6. Recap the positives

At the end the day, before lights out and bed, try recapping on the day’s positives, like “You did really well with completing your homework”, or even if the positive is a general, “You went to school today”. Find the positive and let it be the last thing to go through their head before drifting off to sleep. This will prepare and support the next day.

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It goes without saying that school transitions can be anxiety provoking and challenging and usually a learning curve for all. A few basic strategies can sometimes make all the difference. Encouragement and enthusiasm can be key to reassurance and confidence building.

We hope the ‘back to school’ transition goes smoothly and we are looking forward to hearing about it! #SensationALL

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