Picture the scene. You are sitting in synagogue with your excited young children or grandchildren. They are dressed up in costumes they have been talking about with their friends for the past month. They are chewing candies from their Mishloach Manot and are waiting with anticipation for the start of the Megillah reading. It’s not so easy for them to sit quietly but they do their best. They eagerly await hearing Haman’s name so they can make as much noise as they like!
Now picture this scene. Your child has sensory processing disorder (SPD), or is on the autistic spectrum and has sensory imbalance. He is dressed up in a costume that is scratchy and different from what he normally wears. You have already had a battle to get these clothes on him and wait with dread for the Megillah reading to start. You know he won’t be able to stay quiet when he is supposed to, and you know the screams and tears will start when he is frightened by the loud and sudden noise in synagogue when Haman’s name is read out loud.
If this second description fits your child, you are not alone. It is estimated that 5-10 percent of the population suffers from sensory imbalance. This means that sensory input may be felt in the extreme. So loud noises and scratchy costumes are perceived to be, or simply are, unbearable.
At Beit Issie Shapiro, we encounter sensory issues like these on a daily basis and have developed a range of methodologies to help alleviate frustration and provide better quality of life for children and their families.
Here are some tips to help parents of children on the autistic spectrum or with SPD to prepare for Purim…
– Introduce the idea of dressing in costume through apps such as Picturizr, which allows you to adapt photos with funny accessories such as beards and hats (using tablets also helps develop hand eye coordination and fine motor skills)
– Choose costumes with soft, not scratchy material
– Beware of lace and tight elastic directly on the skin
– Try and make the base of the costume from regular clothes that the child wears and then add accessories
– Have the costume out in the open so that the child sees it often and can get used to it
– Dress a doll in the costume
– Have your child try the costume at home in stages, gradually adding accessories
Preparing mishloach manot
Use the opportunity to help improve your child’s fine motor skills:
– Have your child write a list of who will receive mishloach manot, and a shopping list of ingredients for hamentashen
– Bake with your child (have him or her roll the dough, mix different fillings, feel different dough textures)
– Ask him or her to design, cut and paste, and color a box to pack them in.
– Talk to your child in advance about what is going to happen
– Make a raashan (noise maker) at home out of paper cups and beans or rice
– Play with the raashan at home to get used to the noise
– Look for a child / disability-friendly Megillah reading in your community
– Sit in synagogue near a door so you can get out if you have to.
And remember… Purim is about celebration. Have fun!
This article has been co-written with Mona Julius, Director of the Community Child Development Unit at Beit Issie Shapiro (BIS), Israel’s leading provider and innovator of therapies to make a better quality for all children with disabilities and their families. BIS’ International Therapy Center in Ra’anana offers rehabilitative therapies to children from all over the world. Infants and young children with a range of moderate to severe disabilities, including cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, autistic spectrum disorders, as well as other syndromes, benefit from these treatments.