Halloween – it’s one of America’s favorite holidays. But for the one in six children with sensory integration issues, it can be a bit of a nightmare.
According to Connecting for Kids, “children who struggle with sensory issues have trouble processing information received through the senses.” Sensory challenges can show up as extreme sensitivities to sound, smell, taste, touch and visual stimulation. In other words, children with sensory integration may be disturbed by loud noises, odors, unfamiliar tastes, bright lights and clothing that irritates their skin.
The good news? Sensory issues don’t have to spoil Halloween. With thoughtful planning and creativity, it’s likely that every child in your household can enjoy this sweet and spooky holiday.
Here are some tips for a sensory-friendly Halloween.
1. Choose costumes carefully
If your child wants a store-bought costume, make sure they try it on in the store or at least several days before Halloween to ensure it’s comfortable. If possible, help your child to select a costume that has room to wear comfortable clothing underneath. If you make your child’s costume, choose fabric that you know will accommodate their sensory needs.
While precautions such as these will minimize trouble they’re not foolproof. Kids can be unpredictable. In the event your child changes their mind at the last minute, be flexible. Let your child trick-or-treat without a costume or have some dress-up alternatives prepared in advance.
2. Be aware of triggers
If you know your child tends to be fearful of spooky images, costumes or decorations, prepare them with books, social stories and pictures that show them that scary figures such as witches, ghosts and zombies are not real. If you live in a community where neighbors are receptive, ask them to avoid decorating with strobe lights and fog machines, or playing eerie music or shrill sound effects that may frighten children with sensory sensitivities. Likewise, noisy get-togethers with too many people can be overwhelming. Instead, trick-or-treat on a quiet block and limit your visits to neighbors and friends that your child knows and trusts.
3. Trick-or-treat before nightfall
Darkness can be frightening to children with sensory issues. Many communities have neighborhood trick-or-treating gatherings that take place before sundown. Take advantage of the daylight and limit the possibility of a meltdown.
4. Celebrate at home
If your child is uncomfortable trick-or-treating, organize some holiday activities at home. You might host a sensory friendly Halloween party for friends and family with activities such as candy corn sensory slime and Halloween shaving cream activities. You can serve Halloween treats (either candy or goodies that comply with your child’s special diet), dance to the “Monster Mash” or have a Halloween parade.
You can also watch a favorite fall-themed movie; have family game night; and answer the doorbell together. Being in a comfortable environment may allow your child to enjoy the evening.
5. Be mindful of other children with sensory concerns
Keep your own decorations tame, skip scary costumes and keep your front door well-lit so that trick-or-treaters aren’t frightened when they visit your home. Keep in mind that children may have good reasons why they’re not wearing costumes and don’t confront them if they trick-or-treat in their street clothes. Also, be mindful of non-verbal children who aren’t able to say “trick-or-treat.” Finally, have a healthy option for children on sensory diets.
6. Give your child and family permission to skip Halloween
Don’t despair if your child isn’t up for celebrating. Many children with sensory issues thrive on routine and Halloween calls for a change in plans. If your child doesn’t wish to participate this year let him know it isn’t the end of the world. He may be ready to give it a try next year.