Diwali is just around the corner, and the visual and auditory expressions of its celebration are inevitable. The bursting of crackers and the lighting up of the skies are all part of the fun and festivities associated with Diwali. However, neurodiverse children with sensory issues may experience it differently at times leading to meltdowns or certain behaviours. The loud sounds, bright lights, family gatherings, and having to wear certain textured clothes, could all be overwhelming for them. Taking necessary precautions, strategizing and preparing the child can help them get through this phase pleasantly.
Sensory Sensitivities In Neurodiverse Children
According to Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, "Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways, there is no 'right' way of thinking, learning and behaving." However, neurodiversity is essentially viewed in the context of ASD or autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other neurological or developmental conditions.
Neurotypical, on the other hand, implies those who have typical neurological development. Parenting a neurodiverse child has its triumphs and tribulations, undoubtedly, navigating and celebrating Diwali could be one such challenge.
Neurodiverse children could be under or over-responsive to the typical environmental stimuli, leading to fight-flight or freeze responses. Hence, for an over-responsive child, the loud sounds of crackers, and the lights could be perceived to be much louder, brighter, and disturbing. However, with the correct approach and empathy, the family can help the child not only cope but also enjoy the festivities.
Diwali With Neurodiverse Children
Prepare the child
Prepare the child a few days before Diwali, speak to them and explain through social stories, (available on twinkl.com) about the festival, what it entails and what they might feel, see and hear differently.
Get earplugs or headphones
Noise-cancelling earplugs and headphones are good, practical tools. They can be worn when the noises are unbearable, or used as a distraction to listen to their favourite music or story. Besides, laptops, iPads, AAC’s, or their favourite toys and belongings can be kept handy to calm and comfort them. Ear plugs could also be used when they are napping or trying to sleep.
Dim the lights
Some children could be sensitive to the smell and brightness of oil lamps. Using LED, battery-operated or electric lights could be an option, as the intensity of brightness and placement could be adjusted. Further, light-blocking glasses and safety goggles can be used when taking them outdoors.
Create a personalized plan
As parents, you can plan the celebrations to suit your child the best. Remain with the child in the part of the house that experiences the least noise. Shut the windows, and pull the blinds, but decorate your home to keep the cheer intact. If you plan to invite guests, then stick to small crowds, as large crowds could trigger their sensitivities.
Cook and dress appropriately
Enjoying sweets and traditional dishes, as well as wearing new clothes are highlights of Diwali. Several neurodiverse children are on special diets or may have a limited food repertoire, which restricts them from enjoying the usual celebratory dishes. By preparing gluten-free and casein-free dishes, and dishes from within their preferred range of food, will enable the child to bite through the delicacies with the entire family. Similarly, the touch and feel of certain fabrics can have diverse effects. For some children, certain fabrics like silk, satin, Demin are completely unacceptable, whereas for others, even a tiny remaining tag piece on a newly brought garment or embellishments can cause a meltdown. Thus, while dressing them up for Diwali, it is vital to choose fabrics that they approve of and are comfortable in.
Involve the child
Try not to cut off the child completely from the festivities. Sometimes, neurodiverse children are so sensitive, that parents prefer taking them away from the city during Diwali. If you plan to take the child on such a vacation, try to celebrate the festival with them in the quiet. Involve your child in setting up electric lights, dressing up, praying and eating together, irrespective of whether the child is at home or outside.
Sensitize Neurotypical Children
According to WHO (World Health Organization), one in every hundred children is diagnosed with autism. In some countries, one in every 5 children are reported to be neurodiverse. Thus, it is imperative to educate and spread awareness about diversity, especially in neurotypical or ‘normal’ children. It is essential, to prepare and sensitize neurotypical children so that they are not surprised or even worse, ridicule neurodiverse kids during Diwali. Teach and explain to them to see neurodiverse children as equals, and accept, support, and respect their differences.
The ultimate goal is to create an inclusive environment for the child and this can be achieved through a progressive approach from parents, neighbours, relatives and society at large.