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Easter is a holiday where family and friends come together to celebrate. Oftentimes, many organizations, such as churches, community centers, and malls, will host Easter events. However, for children that experience sensory sensitivity, celebrating in a public setting outside their home can be stressful. Whether the event involves having the Easter bunny visit a mall or hosting a religious ceremony, integrating sensory-friendly aspects ensures that everyone can attend and participate.
What is Sensory-Friendly?
It is important to understand what the term ‘sensory-friendly’ means. A sensory-friendly event means that the sensory experience has been altered. It makes it less intense. Sensory overload can occur in one or more of the 8 senses. Therefore, it is important to change several aspects of an Easter event. That makes it enjoyable for all children and their parents too!
Many organizations take steps to improve accessibility and inclusion. They make their event or location sensory-friendly. Oftentimes, these sensory-friendly changes are easy to do. They do not involve a lot of money.
An example is the Bloomington gym in Illinois. They hosted a sensory-friendly Easter bunny visit and egg hunt for children within their community with sensory-processing disorders.
Easter and your child’s sensory differences
You, your child, and everyone, in fact, have more than 5 senses. We have 8 senses. Easter is full of new, exciting, and sometimes overwhelming sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and smells. There are decorations to see. Music to hear. Lots of new treats to taste and smell. Finally, there are arts, crafts, games, and toys to touch and feel. And there are at least three more senses:
- Sense of movement
- Sense of balance
- Internal Body Sense
Visiting the Easter Bunny requires your child to use their sense of movement (muscles and joints) and sense of balance to move, walk, sit, run, and play in space. And sometimes, that space is new or unfamiliar, like at a mall or a community center. Interoception, or your child’s internal body sense, tells them when they are hungry, thirsty, or if they have to go to the toilet. It also is critical for managing emotions. Think of the expression ‘butterflies in your stomach.’ How your body feels o the inside affects how your body behaves on the outside, your behaviour.
What your child experiences through any of their senses can contribute to sensory overload. Their excitement about Easter (not to mention the threats and surprises) can make any child experience sensory sensitivity or become overwhelmed. That’s why a sensory-friendly Easter bunny visit can help! Autistic children, children with a learning disability, sensory processing disorder or post-concussion are even more likely to experience sensory differences. Autism and anxiety, in combination, are especially difficult for your child.
Tips for sensory-friendly Easter celebrations
Look at pictures
Look at pictures from past Easter celebrations. Use the pictures to remind your child what to expect. Talk about what happens when going to Easter bunny celebrations. If you do not have pictures of your own, search for some online. And give your child an opportunity to talk about what they are excited about. Most importantly, give your child an opportunity to share what they might be worried about too when visiting the Easter Bunny or attending a celebration.
Search for malls or community centers that offer a sensory-friendly Easter bunny visit. More and more such events are happening each year. Check to see if a sensory-friendly Easter bunny event is happening this year near you.
Play it out. Children love to pretend play. Your child will learn new things through play. Most importantly, your child will process their emotions through play too. Easter can bring big emotions, like excitement. It can all bring anxiety. So, dress up. Act out visiting the Easter bunny. Have your child be the Easter bunny. Have their toys all visit the Easter bunny too. Practice both the expected and the unexpected.
Explain what will happen at the event
A great way to help make an event more accessible is to tell people about what will take place at the event. So, post a schedule with words and pictures. Explain what will happen and at what time. This gives adults and children to know what to expect. Parents can plan accordingly. Children will be less anxious about surprises.
Limit the number of attendees
An easy and cost-effective solution to help make an Easter event sensory-friendly is to limit the number of people. Welcoming large crowds at the same time increase noise. And makes the environment confined and crowded. This makes many people uncomfortable. Especially children who experience sensory overload.
Create a simple booking system prior to the event. Take registrations. This lets families schedule their time to attend your Easter event. Your visitors will avoid crowds. Furthermore, you will not have people lining up. No one enjoys that.
Avoid loud sounds and bright lights
Loud noises and background music can be very irritating for someone who experiences sensory overload. The review article, ‘A Review of Decreased Sound Tolerance in Autism: Definitions, Phenomenology, and Potential Mechanisms’ by Williams et al., (2021), found that 50-70% of people with autism have decreased sound tolerance 1. Therefore, avoid things like:
- Noise making toys
- Loud equipment
- Background music
- Noisy activities
All bright and flashing lights should also be turned down. Preferably off. Ensure that there is sufficient and good lighting for safety. But no overwhelming and bright lights.
In addition, provide earmuffs and sunglasses that individuals can rent or purchase while attending the event. They help block out noise and light for people who are sensitive.
Offer sensory-friendly hours
Offer sensory-friendly or autism hours. These are dedicated times during the day. They are often open only to people with sensory sensitivity. For example, during these times, all noises and bright lights are turned down or off.
For instance, at a mall, fountains and escalators will be turned off. Background music is not played. Additionally, a small number of individuals would attend the event at a time.
Staff and volunteers working at the event may have additional training. They learn strategies to support people with disabilities.
Your child probably has expectations for Easter. For instance, they might think the Easter Bunny can magically grant wishes. You likely have expectations too. Maybe you want an Instagram-worthy photo to share? Manage everyone’s expectations, and you will all be delighted.
Bring along sensory tools
Have the things that help on hand. Noise-cancelling earmuffs, fidgets, sunglasses, a hat, whatever you know works for your child. Help them manage their sensory experience by reducing the overload.
Hungry and thirsty children are not happy children. Not to mention the sugar-rush if there is Easter candy. Plan ahead and ensure you have a meal or a snack and a drink before you attend the celebration.
Take toilet breaks
Plan those all-important toilet breaks ahead. Your child’s internal body sense can easily become disrupted with the excitement of Easter. Hunger, thirst, and the urge to go to the toilet can all contribute to sensory overload. Help your child manage their body and internal body sense with breaks and toilet breaks.
Colour code Easter eggs
Colour coding the Easter eggs is helpful if you are planning to do the Easter egg hunt with more than one child or more than one family. Colour-coding eggs helps children know how many eggs they should be looking for. Keep it simple and fun. Avoid placing eggs in locations too difficult to find or reach.
Also, you might want to help children keep track of their progress throughout the event. That will help your child know when they should stop looking for eggs. Your child may like to help keep count of their eggs. Counting eggs can eliminate feelings of competition. It can also prevent feelings of anxiousness and frustration. Importantly, counting eggs will ensure that each child finishes the hunt with an equal number of chocolate and gifts.
Wear comfortable clothing
Make sure that everyone wears clothes that are comfortable for them. You may want your child to wear Easter-related costumes or new clothes or ‘dress up’ in more formal wear. Or maybe wear bunny ears while doing the Easter egg hunt. However, for your child with sensory sensitivities, uncomfortable clothing is irritating. Choose sensory-friendly clothing. Remove any tags if they are bothersome. And dress your child in familiar, comfortable outfits. Choose clothing that lets them move around easily.
Choose sensory-friendly Easter greetings
As you are aware, there are many ways to greet people. Whether that includes contact or contactless greetings. Although there is no gold standard greeting to use with someone that has sensory differences, the key is to offer options. Options let people choose and make people comfortable.
There are a number of contact greetings that you can use to say hello to someone. For someone who does not mind close contact, these are great ideas to comfortably say hello. This may include the following:
- High fives
- Fist bumps
Some people like hugs. However, make sure it is a choice. For other people, a different type of contact, like a high five, handshake, or fist bump, is more comfortable.
For many people, contactless greetings are preferred. A common reason is discomfort from social situations. Or hypersensitivity to being touched unexpectedly. As a result, many people may feel more comfortable using contactless ways or greetings. For instance, some contactless sensory-friendly Easter greetings include:
- Saying hello
- Making bunny ears
- Thumbs up
- Air hug
Another consideration you can use when practicing sensory-friendly greetings is to have a printed visual at the door. Moreover, let your child choose by pointing to the greeting they prefer, for example. You can print the greeting images in this blog post. This blog post from LuxAL highlights effective ways to help your child begin to feel more comfortable greeting others. This includes suggestions such as building greetings into routines, choosing select types of greetings and using visual modelling.
If you are in a situation in which you do not know what sensory-friendly greeting is best to use for the other person, it is important to just ask. Another suggestion is to look for non-verbal cues that may suggest what type of greeting they would prefer. For example, if you notice a person not opening their arms for a hug, offer a fist bump instead. Make people feel comfortable.
All in all, use these suggestions to include more people in your upcoming Easter celebration.
Happy Easter! Have a wonderful and sensory-friendly Easter!
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Christel Seeberger has worked in health care for 30 years, including helping people with sensory sensitivity who experience sensory overload. Christel has a hearing disability and experiences sensory sensitivity and sensory overload herself. She founded Sensory Friendly Solutions in 2016 to make the world more sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive.
- Williams, Z. J., He, J. L., Cascio, C. J., & Woynaroski, T. G. (2021). A Review of Decreased Sound Tolerance in Autism: Definitions, Phenomenology, and Potential Mechanisms. Neuroscience &Amp; Biobehavioral Reviews, 121, 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.11.030