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Preparing for the holidays (part 2): Sensory Overload

Updated: Apr 21

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remember many years ago when we took our newly-adopted seven-year-old son to the beach for the first time. He had never seen the ocean before. As soon as we were down by the waters’ edge he began running in huge circles, in and out of the water, screaming with delight at the top of his lungs! He certainly was on sensory overload for sure, but in a positive way.


Sensory overload can also have negative effects on adopted children, especially during the Christmas holidays. I recall a young woman, “Angela” an adoptee from Eastern Europe that I worked with at a long-term residential treatment program. Every year we had a huge “blowout” Christmas party for the kids there. There was much animated chatter as the kids entered the big family room. There, they were greeted with a mountain of wrapped gifts. With much excitement they all tore into their packages as their noise level steadily increased. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Angela, sitting off in a corner by herself with a frozen look on her face. I went over and sat by her and asked her if she was okay. “I can’t handle this, I can’t handle this”, Angela repeated as her body shook mildly and tears welled up in here eyes. I sat with her and quietly talked with her to help her calm herself.


You see for Angela, Christmas did not hold pleasant memories, both in her bleak orphanage existence as a child, and unfortunately also in her adoptive home in the U.S. We could not just assume that her response to our big, boisterous Christmas party would be a positive experience for her. For her it was both emotional and sensory overload. What she did respond somewhat positively to, was my sitting with her, having a quiet conversation and helping her to slowly open her gifts one by one.


Most adopted children will handle the Christmas hoopla just fine. But if you have a newly-adopted daughter or son in your home this holiday season, be aware that you may have to scale things down a bit and make the festivities a bit more sedate. As I mentioned in my previous blog, be aware that for your child, Christmas could be as much about loss and grief as it is celebration. Follow your child’s lead during the holidays. Read his body language and verbal cues and help him to put words to his feelings if necessary.

Photo credit - Ana Danalina on Unsplash.