Fall is one of my favorite seasons! Here in New England, the leaves are changing colors, the weather is crisp, but not too cold, school is in full swing, and the kids (both my own and my clients) are starting to settle into a regular routine.
Fall also signals that Halloween is around the corner and with Halloween comes the excitement over costumes, trick-or-treating buddies, school parties, and other festivities.
If your child has sensory sensitivities, traditional Halloween activities can heighten the senses and be a source of anxiety. The spooky decorations, costumes, masks, routine changes, door bells, trick-or-treating, sugar intake, and parties can feel aversive, overwhelming, and hard to manage for any child, but especially those with sensory processing challenges and/or a disability.
Here are four strategies you can use to help foster a positive Halloween experience for all children, but especially those who are differently abled. These ideas can provide a child the tools needed to empower them and hopefully create positive memories.
1. Make a Plan
Talk to your child about what they want! What does their ideal Halloween
experience look like in their mind? There are so many ways to participate in this
holiday in a sensory-friendly way and make it fun for the whole family. Here are
just a few that come to mind:
Traditional trick-or-treating with adjustments. For example, going trick-or- treating before it gets dark out can make the environment more predictable and easier to navigate from a sensory perspective and plan a route to a limited number of houses that understand your child’s needs.
Trunk-or-treating: Many schools and organizations now offer trunk-or- treating events as a safer, less-spooky alternative to traditional trick-or- treating. During this event, adult members of the organization decorate the trunks of their vehicles in Halloween-themed decor and pass out candy or other goodies to the children in their community. Trunk-or-treating can also be a great option for children who tire easily or who have limited mobility, because the trick-or-treat stations are closer to one another, which allows for more independent movement. Check with your local schools to see if they are offering a trunk-or-treat or other sensory-friendly events.
Sensory-friendly celebrations: Think about things like trick-or-treating at school, OT or doctors office, Halloween-themed sensory bins activities, or make some pumpkin slime!
Halloween at home! Staying home, maybe dressing up, and handing out treats can be a great alternative that helps sensory kiddos feel safe in their own environment while still participating in Halloween.
It’s so important to have the conversation with your child ahead of time to see what is going to make them feel most comfortable. It will make for a more enjoyable experience for everyone in the family!
2. Preview and Practice
Once you have decided on the plan, it's time to preview what the experience will look like for your kiddo. If you are participating in traditional trick-or-treating, walk the route a day or two before. Try drawing a map with your child, including the exact number of houses you will visit, and practice ringing your own doorbell or knocking on different doors to rooms in your house. At my clinic, kidSHINE, we celebrate Halloween by having the kids ride scooter boards, bear walk, or crab walk from room to room picking up stickers at each office door. This gives them valuable proprioceptive input all while trick-or-treating at the same time. (We OTs love to practice life skills during sessions.)
3. Prepare The Costumes
If dressing up is in the cards, it’s important to understand your child’s sensory preferences and mobility needs when choosing a costume and then adapt the costume to adjust for any mobility differences or tactile challenges. Here are a few specifics:
Masks → Reconsider full masks, offer partial masks, which can increase visibility and breathability, or no masks at all.
Compression → Depending on your child’s sensory needs, you can have your child wear compression clothing under the costume for deep touch input.
Weighted backpack → Consider a costume that includes wearing a weighted backpack.
No costume → Some kiddos may not want to wear a costume at all. Reassure your child that it's okay to trick-or-treat as your POWERFUL self.
Prime and prep the sensory system → Starting a few days before Halloween, increase the sensory input with the right type of input at the right times throughout the day. Heavy work before trick-or-treating can be helpful. Talk to your child’s occupational therapist for an individualized plan for your child.
The bottom line is, as prepared as your child may be for the big day, the best laid plans don’t always turn out as expected. If you are a parent of a child with sensory processing challenges, you already know that the key to success is being able to watch and listen to your child’s needs and be able to pivot.
The combination of utilizing tools, exercising flexibility, and being willing to adjust on the fly will help Halloween to be an experience that your child will remember as a happy memory!
If you are interested in learning more or have questions, tune in to our upcoming LIVE chat on October 25th at 11:30AM (EST).
Stay Strong and SHINE On!
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