sensory friendly easter egg huntSpring holidays often include special events, meals with extended family, and other exciting activities that can be overstimulating for kids with neuro-developmental disorders like ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Asperger Syndrome. The changes in routine and activities that are fun for most can lead to meltdowns or withdrawal for kids who experience sensory overload. If your holiday plans include hunting for brightly colored eggs filled with sugary treats, find below tips for ensuring a sensory friendly egg hunt that all children can enjoy!
1. Use a schedule. Give your child a schedule of events for special activities like egg hunts and large gatherings. Whether it’s a written schedule or one with pictures for younger kids, your child will feel calmer and safer knowing what is coming next. Let your child cross off events once they are complete, and discuss the schedule regularly. Provide info for each event when possible including who will be there and how long each event should last. Let your child know which events will take place outside, which will be loud or crowded, and an approximate time you will leave. Often, just knowing what’s next can help children with behavioral and sensory issues feel less anxiety.
2. Help plan the egg hunt. To ensure your child is prepared for the sensory experience of an extended family or community egg hunt, consider getting involved in planning the event. For smaller groups, assign each child a color and have him or her look only for those eggs. For larger groups, mark eggs with a number and have kids gather only the eggs with their number on them. This approach will allow a timid or easy overwhelmed child to hunt for eggs at his or her own pace and eliminate competition for kids with impulse control or behavioral issues.
3. Have an egg hunt trial run. If your child is new to the egg hunt tradition, consider having a trial run at home. Allow your child to look for empty eggs just for fun. If he or she has siblings, let them each have a turn separately, and then let them look for eggs together. For kids with sensory integration problems and attention issues, knowing what to expect, and what’s expected of them, can significantly lower their anxiety in new or novel situations.
4. Be prepared to meet your child’s sensory needs. Children with significant sensory sensitives may require a little extra planning to enjoy the spring festivities. For example, you may need to bring along ear plugs if you suspect the egg hunt will be noisy. Don’t forget to pack sunglasses or a hat for kids who are light sensitive. If your child will be expected to wear dress clothes, make sure your child tries on his or her special outfit before the event. Remove any tags or identify and remedy any troubling pieces like pesky sock seams or shoes that aren’t “just right.” Bring along a favorite soft outfit for your child to change into if the need arises. Consider allowing your child to bring a small back pack filled with comfort and sensory items. Be prepared by knowing your child’s specific limitations and how you will handle them if the need arises.
5. Plan for alternative treats if needed. Many kids with neuro-behavioral disorders have food sensitives or allergies that prevent them from enjoying the treats that normally fill plastic eggs. Plan ahead so that you can offer alternatives like allergen-free candy or a gluten-free treat. In addition to allergies, kids with neuro-behavioral disorders often experience negative reactions to artificial colors and sugar-laden foods, so consider a candy exchange or fill eggs with non-food items like stamps, temporary tattoos, stickers, rings, and other small trinkets.
6. Allow your child to opt out. Choose a code word your child can use if he or she feels overwhelmed and needs a break. Assure your child if he or she uses the code word, you will respond right away. Giving children some control during activities that may be overstimulating for them will reduce anxiety, and help them stay calm and organized. Knowing he or she has a way “out” is important. While an egg hunt is fun for most children, some kids may prefer not to take part.