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Jennifer Lovy
BY Jennifer Lovy

15 Tips for a Sensory Friendly Purim

What child doesn’t look forward to Purim?

It’s the only time when a kid can put on a costume, feast on an abundance of treats and make a lot of noise in synagogue without getting in trouble.

What child doesn’t look forward to Purim?

My child.

And since you’re reading this, I’m guessing your child doesn’t either.

The Noise

Purim, the most festive and spirited Jewish holiday can be an utterly overwhelming experience for a child with autism or sensory issues.

The shaking of graggers along with the shouts, boos and foot stomping heard each time Haman’s name is mentioned during the Megillah reading is seriously loud.

It’s supposed to be.

That’s why most kids like it.

But not ours.

Purim is the only Jewish holiday where kids are encouraged to get dressed up.

The Costumes

While most kids spend months planning their costumes, our kids think the costumes are itchy and uncomfortable. Asking them to wear a mask, beard, hat or crown would be like asking a child to do extra homework just for fun.

It’s probably not going to happen.

The Food

The traditional holiday treats such as hamantaschen, are different and plentiful. But my son and so many of our kids have dietary restrictions that make it difficult for them to enjoy the customary mishloach manot (Purim baskets) from others.  Before my son outgrew some of his allergies, about the only thing he could eat from a mishloach manot basket was a box of raisins.

So how do families like ours enjoy the wildest most festive Jewish holiday? By planning ahead and modifying. Here are 15 tips to help you enjoy Purim with your sensory sensitive child.

Getting through the Megillah Reading

Depending on the setting a Megillah reading can be as short as 25 minutes or as long as 45 minutes. Some readers are faster than others and some synagogues take more breaks to spin the groggers and make some noise. Here are seven tips for enabling a child with autism to sit through a Megillah reading.

1. Work with your local Synagogue

Check to see if there is a synagogue in your area that has a sensory-friendly Megillah reading.  There do not seem to be many around but maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find one near you. If there isn’t one, try working with a local congregation to start one. Alternatively contact your local Chabad Center they may be able to arrange a private (and quick) Megillah Reading.

2. Create a Social Story

Find images or video online of a Megillah reading and create a social story. A Megillah reading online to help prepare your child for what to expect. Repetition may be annoying for you but helpful for your child.

3. Find Quiet

During the reading find a quieter spot, if possible, in the sanctuary.  It may be in the back of the room or away from the speakers if there are any.

4. Backup Plans

Go with a backup plan, such as sitting outside the sanctuary if the noise becomes too much.

5. Incentives

Negotiate a plan with your child such as “if you sit through the first 15 minutes in the sanctuary we can spend the rest of the time listening to the Megillah from outside.”

6. Watch While Listening

Watch a purim video on a phone or tablet with the sound off while the Megillah is being read. This will enable your child to listen to the reader while watching the story of purim (you may want to explain the situation to others around you so they understand why your phone is out and about).

7. Try and Try Again

Don’t set your expectation too high.  If you try it and it’s too much for your child, know that next year may be easier. For our son the more we expose him, the easier it gets because he learns what to expect.

Finding a Costume

Nobody knows your child’s likes or dislikes better than you. Keep his sensitivities in mind when buying or making a costume.

8. If possible, include your child in the process of selecting or making the costume.
9. Keep it simple if necessary.
10. There are a lot of suggestions online if you search for sensory friendly costumes.
11. Have your child wear his or her costume as much as possible prior to Purim. If your child is like mine, he may just keep wearing it long after the holiday ends.
12. If your child refuses to wear a costume that’s ok too. It shouldn’t preclude him from participating.

Enjoying the Treats

13. There are a number of recipes for gluten-free hamantaschen online and some of the recipes I saw did not contain dairy.  A recipe we tried and liked came from: http://glutenfreebay.blogspot.com

14. If you know someone is planning on giving your family mishloach manot, tell that person about your child’s dietary restrictions if you are comfortable doing so.

15. Alternatively, give them safe foods to include in your mishloach manot or swap out the unsafe treats with foods your child can enjoy.

What are your best tips for a sensory-friendly Purim?

Jennifer Lovy

Written on February 24, 2015 by:

Jennifer Lovy is a freelance writer, part-time accounting manager, recovering attorney, and perpetual advocate for her three children, particularly her son with autism. She shares daily life with Evan on her own blog SpecialEv.com.
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