Holiday Tips and Strategies for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder

The holidays are here and with this very special time of year comes holiday parties, music, dressing up, lots of food, visitors and traveling! While these can be very exciting things to some people, to a child with sensory processing issues the holidays can feel more like loud noises, uncomfortable clothing, sitting for long periods of time at dinner, unfamiliar foods, unexpected hugs and a change in routine. For those of us who are challenged adjusting to day light savings time when that alarm clock goes off 1 hour earlier, imagine the challenges of the holidays when a typical day suddenly doesn’t feel quite so typical. Thankfully, there are ways to prepare and navigate these changes so that everyone can participate in the holiday cheer.

In order to prepare for travel:

Discuss the specifics of traveling before the trip. This will help your child prepare for what to expect on a plane, train or car including when to sit with a seatbelt on, when they can get up and walk around, and when they have to stand in a line, etc. See your occupational or speech therapist for additional ideas on stories that may help guide your travels.

If possible, visit the airport or train station in advance. Visit the ticket counter and watch the planes take off and land.

Make a scrap book with your child that includes one page per day of your travels. Each page should include the people that you may meet (use real photos if you can) and places that you may go. Review the book before your trip and then take it with you. While you are on your trip, take some time at the end of the day to reflect and have your child draw a picture of their favorite thing they did or saw! This may help motivate them to continue to use it throughout their trip.

If your child has difficulties with dressing or wearing certain clothing, have them help pack their clothes. Trial the clothes at home so that they know what they have packed and also that the clothing items are tolerable. If the weather will be different than home, show them a visual of the weather at your vacation spot. This may help guide your packing and help them understand why shorts may be necessary over snow boots.

If your child has sensitivities to clothing and you purchase new clothes for your trip be sure to wash the clothes several times before trialing and wearing them.

Prepare with reading materials, fidgets and comfort items such as blankets during the flight or drive.

Make a calendar countdown to your trip. Take a calendar with you to help them visualize how long the trip will be and to assist in transitioning back home.

In order to prepare for the return home:

Use the calendar to prepare for which day you are leaving to head back home. Discuss how many days before you get home, return to school and back to your regular schedule.

Gather souvenirs during your trip to add to the scrap book. Discuss bringing it in to show friends, other family members or bringing the book into show-and-tell at school.

In order to prepare for Religious Services:

If your family is planning on attending services in a temple, church, mosque, etc., prior exposure to the religious environment can be helpful for your child. Every location has its own practices and rules.

Rehearsing routines that your family may encounter, including singing songs and prayers, sitting on tight benches, etc. will create an opportunity for your family to participate in the religious community and feel pride.

In order to prepare for mealtime and family gatherings:

Provide movement breaks as often as possible, especially before mealtime and traveling which should include 5-10 minutes of heavy work. Finding a quiet space for a break may be beneficial as well. *See list of heavy work ideas below.

Allow your child to assist with setting the table (plates, soda bottles), cooking (stirring, kneading dough), and moving chairs to the correct placements (or pushing them in/out). Set up a designated space for the children to help that includes extra dough, cookie decorating and/or different textured items to provide tactile experiences for them.

Determine a signal (secret code) between you and your child that will indicate that they need a break when they are in an environment that is challenging for them.

Prepare other family members of your child’s needs by explaining the implications of loud voices and unexpected touch.

Bring preferred food items to family gatherings to ensure your child has an option to eat. Try to encourage healthier options as this time of year can be filled with an abundance of sugary treats.

Inquire about interests of other children attending the gatherings to see if they share common interests with your child – you may also find new activities that might be intriguing to your child!

Heavy work ideas:

– Any activity that involves pushing, pulling, dragging, lifting or jumping- carrying laundry, boxes with books, grocery bags, pushing vacuum, etc

– Pull or push boxes (more resistance on a carpeted floor)

– Carry boxes of items to donate

– Play “magic carpet” and have a sibling or family member pull the child on a sheet, mat or small rug

– Play Twister!

– Have a dance party to holiday music

– Practice cooking with your child – have them stir the pot or knead thick dough.

– Make holiday themed play dough, such as gingerbread or pumpkin spice.

– Have the child pull pillows or couch cushions into a “mountain” pile in a safe place for them to jump in and climb through and under.

– Roll your child up in a blanket or yoga mat like a burrito or hot dog

– “Make a pizza” by rolling a large yoga/therapy ball over your child while they lay flat

– Pull weighted items in a wagon or cart

– Make a “sandwich” with them in between two pillows while pressure is provided

– Give big hugs and squeezes

– Wheel barrow walking or animal walks- bear walk, frog jump, commando crawl, or log roll

– Engage in exercises such as wall push-ups, sit ups, planks, or jumping-jacks – incorporate exercises into a game of “Santa Says!”

Final Thoughts:

Keep in mind what your child might need in order to be comfortable. Be prepared to review your plans with your child several times as they might need the repetition in order to feel comfortable with the change of routine. Children need structure and routine and benefit tremendously from maintaining eating and sleeping schedules. We hope that these suggestions will help support your child and your family throughout the holiday season. We wish you all safe travels, happy holidays and a healthy, joyful new year!



In-Services in Our Community

On Monday, October 23, 2017, an enthusiastic group of preschool teachers and directors met at the Carter Center for Children in Needham, MA for a workshop. Lauren Alves, Co-Director at the Carter Center organized the evening workshop which was titled From Here to There: Transitions Throughout the School Day. Clinicians, Janet Schmidt, MA, CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist and Elvira Fulchino, MS. OTR/L, MSW, LICSW, Occupational Therapist, from the Boston Ability Center conducted the workshop.

The focus of the workshop was for the participants to identify and plan for successful transitions in order to facilitate the children’s success throughout their school day. The impact of individual factors on successful transitions, such as, changes in the child’s schedule, routine, sleep difficulty, sensory sensitivities, physical limitations, and language difficulties were also addressed. Interventions such as, using First/Then language, Visual supports, Zones of Regulation and Whole Body Listening strategies to facilitate coping skills in young children were introduced.

The format allowed for large and small group discussion which provided the opportunity for the participants to ask questions, view materials and learn more about specific strategies.

Elvira Fulchino, MS, OTR/L, MSW

Janet Schmidt, MA, CCC-SLP







See below for a link to an article on transitions and additional references:

References: Dewdney, Anna, Llama Llama Misses Mama, 2009, Scholastic Inc.

Kuypers, Leah M. Ed. OTR/L, The Zones of Regulation, 2011, Think Social Publishing, Inc. S’cool Moves, I Can Calm Myself, S’cool Moves, Inc.

Wilson, Kristen, Sautter, Elizabeth, Whole Body Listening Larry at home, Whole Body Listening Larry at school, Second Edition, 2016.

In-Services in Our Community

On Friday, October 13, 2017an in-service teacher training was provided to Temple Beth Avodah Early Learning Center by Occupational Therapist, Elvira Fulchino, MS. OTR/L, MSW, LICSW of the Boston Ability Center. The topic, Handwriting Without Tears program, was selected by the Director of the Preschool Program, Heidi Baker, and was attended by the preschool teachers who offered many comments and asked a variety of questions. The teachers have familiarity with this program and a lively discussion occurred where many ideas for activities were exchanged.

The program included discussion of the stages of grasp development, the impact of core strength on sitting posture and the role of attention. Additional information was provided on introducing Fine Motor activities into the classroom to encourage the correct grasp and materials to support handwriting development.

The specifics of the Handwriting Without Tears program were covered, such as, workbooks for Preschool, Get Set for School, and Kindergarten, Letters and Numbers for Me. Essential to the program is the progression from beginner skills, (to hold, place and move a crayon) to printing upper case letters, numbers and lower-case letters. Wooden pieces (lines and curves) form the letters which are divided into groups based on their components (vertical, horizontal lines, big and little curves, diagonals).

The program was developed by Jan Olsen,OTR, Occupational Therapist, and the workbooks were co-created with Emily Knapton, Occupational Therapist. The Boston Ability Center and many school districts use the Handwriting Without Tears program.

Elvira Fulchino, MS, OTR/L, MSW


Olsen, Jan Z., Get Set for School, Handwriting Without Tears, 2003, First Edition

Olsen, Jan Z. Letters and Numbers for Me, Handwriting Without Tears, 2003, Ninth Edition

Fall Graduate Occupational Therapy Students

Let’s give a big welcome to our new occupational therapist students at the Boston Ability Center. Julie and Dema will be completing their last clinical affiliation.


Julie is a recent graduate of Tufts University’s Occupational Therapy program. Boston Ability Center is Julie’s second and final clinical affiliation. Prior to graduate school, Julie had careers in social services working with children and families in Southeast Alaska and at Trader Joe’s grocery stores. She is thrilled to be at Boston Ability Center. She is also a mom to a 10-year old. In Julie’s free time, she plays a lot of baseball with her son.

Julie will be working with Amanda on Monday-Wednesdays and with Katie on Thursdays and Fridays.


Dima is set to earn her Master’s degree in occupational therapy from Boston University in January 2018. Recently, Dima completed her clinical affiliation working in an inpatient rehab hospital with a focus on neurological conditions and neuro-rehab. She has a broad range of experience working with children and adolescents with physical disabilities and mental illness. She completed clinical observation at Boston Ability Center in 2016 and is excited to return to for her final clinical affiliation! In her free time Dima enjoys traveling and going to concerts.

Dima will be working with Stephanie K Monday-Thursdays.