By Brenna Patterson, OTR/L
Halloween can be an exciting, anticipated event for many kids. Some kids love to pretend to be their favorite superhero or princess, or get to dress up for a whole day. For some kids, though, this may be an overwhelming and challenging experience with new sounds (sometimes spooky!), people looking different than normal, and having to tolerate a lot of textures over the course of the holiday (pumpkin “guts,” rough costumes, masks, etc.).
There are some ways that you can prepare your child with sensory challenges for this holiday so it’s an enjoyable experience for everyone! Some preparatory planning can go a long way to support everyone’s experience on the special day.
Sometimes a mask may be overwhelming, especially for a child who cannot tolerate tactile textures on their face for extended periods of time. The same goes for face paint! If the child’s preferred costume requires either of these options, perhaps ease them into this experience by role playing or allowing the child to wear them for brief amounts of time, increasing the amount of time leading up to the trick or treat day. There are a variety of costumes that don’t require a mask, or maybe just requires a hat. For example, a train conductor (perhaps Sir TopHam Hat), a pumpkin, a princess, a doctor, or a fireman. Children with sensory processing challenges may have difficulty with certain fabric textures touching their skin. One strategy is putting a soft cotton shirt on underneath (and if going outside, this will help stay warm as well!).
Children may also have difficulty with the increases in noise with a lot of peers, adults, or music used during parties and trick or treating. You could get creative with their costume choice, selecting a costume that may use headphones that you could incorporate noise-cancelling headphones into. For example, a DJ, a pilot, or a race car driver.
There are now many events for trick-or-treating around communities that occur in daylight, which may be a good alternative to trick-or-treating at night for a child that does not respond well to darker lighting. Trick-or-treating in the dark may be extra intense when approaching unfamiliar homes in your neighborhood. Some strategies for creating a positive trick-or-treating experience for a child sensitive to lighting would be attending the earlier trick-or-treating events in the community, trick-or-treating early at familiar homes (family or friends), or participating in trick-or-treat for the first half hour. You can always gauge how your child is responding to the event and extend or limit the amount of homes you go to as well! You know your child best.
Finally, for the child attending a party or having a classroom event with costumes and lots of kiddos and fun activities, make sure that there is an area that your child can go to for some quieter alone time if they get overwhelmed. Having this area in mind ahead of time will help you feel prepared and make your child feel at ease if they need to take a break. Maybe include some halloween books, puzzles, or coloring sheets for them to complete in this area so they feel included in the festivities as well.