Child plays in snow


4 Tips to Help Manage Sensory Issues During Winter

Feb 8, 2018

For many autistic children and/or kids with sensory issues, winter brings additional challenges. Although they may seem like small seasonal changes, layering clothing, wearing mitts, shovelling snow or warming the car can actually disrupt a child’s routine and cause meltdowns. 

For instance, going places takes longer due to icy road conditions and having to warm the vehicle up a bit. Or getting dressed to play outside takes longer because of the additional clothing that should be worn. Ultimately that means the routines for leaving the house may require more time, which may be difficult for some kids to grasp.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of your child's individual sensory preferences and to make a game plan to help your child with the new changes that winter brings. Hopefully, these tips for managing sensory issues in the winter will be helpful for you and your child.

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#1: Use social stories to help your child navigate the new routines that winter brings.

Social stories are a wonderful tool to help kids understand and work through difficult situations and events. If you are unfamiliar with what a social story is, it is simply a visual story that breaks down the situation and/or event into simple steps. It explains what the expected behaviours and responses are for that particular situation. It also describes, in detail, what the situation, event or skill requires. It is a great tool for kids to learn about anything they may need help with.

For managing the new transitions that winter brings, you can write social stories about why we need to wear mitts and toques in the winter, why we need to shovel our sidewalks, how to get dressed to play outside, or why we can't always play outside in the snow when it is -40°C.

You can literally write a social story about anything.

So think of what areas are most challenging for your child and target those skills through a social story.

For example, when my oldest son was in kindergarten, he really struggled with getting his winter clothes on independently for recess time. So I made him a mini social story for his locker that broke down the individual steps for putting on his ski pants, coat, mitts, toque and boots. It allowed him to do this task independently with success.

Also check out: 10 Things to Remember When Advocating For Your Special Needs Child

#2: Avoid itchy fabrics for winter gear and opt for soft fleece-type materials instead.

Winter jacket, hat, mitts, sensory toy on pocket zipper, etc.

Yes, wool is warm, but for many, wool is also itchy to wear. Kids with tactile sensory sensitivities will feel more comfortable wearing clothing that is soft to the touch. Try to use fleece-lined clothing instead.

Another thing to consider is tags and their placement. The tags in clothing are bothersome for many people. You might want to consider cutting any tags out or choosing tagless clothing.

#3: Buy backup pairs of mittens and toques.

Mitts and toques not only get misplaced, but they also get wet when the weather gets a bit warmer. Many kids may be bothered by the feel of wet, damp clothing, so make sure to have multiple pairs of mitts, toques or even ski pants available to your child. Trust me, if you can avoid a meltdown because the mittens are wet, it's totally worth the cost of investing in additional mitts. (Psst...I like to buy multiple pairs of inexpensive fleece mittens from the dollar store.)

#4:  Attach sensory tools to zippers for easy access.

If you have a child that chews a lot, like I do, then you may have seen your child chewing on the top of their coat where it hits their chin. While chewing on this part isn't necessarily a big deal, it eventually gets wet, rubs against your child's skin, and makes their skin red and raw, which can be painful.

To combat the issue of chapped skin, I like to tie a chewable necklace to the zipper of my kids' winter coats. Then they have a safe alternative to chew on instead of their coat.

Child has safe-necklace in mouth.

You can also attach fidgets to the zippers of your child's coat pocket. Doing so is handy for those times where waiting is difficult for little ones (like when it's the first snowfall of the year and traffic moves at a crawling speed).

There are certainly lots of other ways to manage sensory issues during the winter. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I do hope you find these ideas helpful.

Article Author Dyan Robson
Dyan Robson

Read more from Dyan here.

Married to her high school sweetheart, Dyan is mom to two boys, J and K, who also teaches piano out of her home. On her blog And Next Comes L, Dyan shares her story of raising a child with hyperlexia, hypernumeracy and autism, amongst a variety of sensory activities for kids. You can find out more about their story on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.


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