Enjoying Halloween with Sensory Challenges

BETWEEN 5% AND 15% OF CHILDREN in the general population have challenges with sensory processing – the interpretation of and reaction to sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and perception of movement and position.

If you are the parent, relative, educator, or friend of one of these children, you know how modifying activities and environments can help them enjoy an activity and manage their challenges. But how do you adapt the environment and activities so children can make the most out of life on Halloween? The tips listed below are from pediatric occupational therapy practitioners who are experienced with addressing sensory challenges.

If you would like to: Consider these activity tips:

Help your child be prepared.

Prepare your child for the holiday by discussing some of the associated traditions and activities. Read a book; create a story, or role play. Many Halloween traditions clash with established rules, like taking candy from strangers. To help your child understand what Halloween is—and is not—review your values and establish rules and boundaries.

Have your child wear a costume.

Remember that “pretend” does not necessarily involve elaborate costuming. For example, a simple green shirt may suffice to indicate a turtle. Prior to shopping, talk about costume criteria’s so your child’s expectations are clear. Make sure costumes aren’t too scratchy, tight, slippery, or stiff. Test your child’s comfort when walking, reaching, and sitting. Costumes that are too long or too loose pose tripping and fire hazards. Consider whether your child will be too warm or too cold in character, and whether he or she will need a coat. If your child has facial sensitivity, steer clear of make-up and masks. Masks can also limit vision.

Take your child trick or treating.

Just because it’s Halloween, doesn’t mean you have to go trick or treating: Meaningful participation in Halloween traditions could include helping to roast pumpkin seeds or picking apples. Choose whatever activity best fits your child’s sensory needs.

If you want to try trick or treating, focus on a quiet street with sidewalks. Trick or treating while it’s daytime helps reduce anxiety and increase safety.

Practice the sequence of walking to the door, saying “trick or treat,” putting the treat in the bag, and saying “thank you.” If possible, go only to homes of family and friends to keep the comfort level to a maximum. Skip homes with flashing lights, loud noises, and people on the front porch pretending to be a decoration until you ring the bell. Eating candy while trick or treating can be a choking hazard or trigger allergies, so go over ground rules before leaving home. Often, children enjoy handing out candy as much as receiving it.

Have your child attend a party.

At Halloween parties, some children enjoy wet or sticky textures like pumpkin filling and skinless grapes, whereas these make others feel uncomfortable and even sick to their stomach. Instead of carving a pumpkin, decorate a jack o’ lantern with stickers and markers. A child who doesn’t enjoy bobbing for apples may feel more comfortable with the apples in a bucket. Consider planning an event at home with a few friends. Small groups present more opportunities to socialize. A short, successful outing is always preferable to a longer one that ends in a “meltdown.”

Help your child avoid a meltdown.

Limit the duration and number of people and activities. Give your child choices and advance notice of the sequence of events. Help your child learn to advocate by practicing phrases like “when is my turn?” or “please don’t touch me.” Know when to stop or disengage from the festivities by recognizing sensory overload—fatigue, hyper excitability, crying, combativeness, etc.—and immediately go to a quieter, smaller space.

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Need More Information?

Pediatric occupational therapy practitioners work in schools, clinics, and community-based settings to support children with and without disabilities and their families to participate in daily routines and activities. Children with sensory processing challenges may experience difficulty engaging in holiday traditions and other events, Occupational Therapy practitioners can help.


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