5 Ways to Help Children With Sensory Challenges Participate in Halloween Festivities

Overwhelming sights, smells, and textures do not have to sideline children

While many children enjoy Halloween
traditions of tick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, and interaction with
costume-clad “ghouls and goblins,” children affected by a sensory
processing disorder may interpret and react differently to these holiday
activities.

“Children with sensory processing challenges may become overwhelmed
with the wide array of sounds, sights and textures at Halloween time,”
says Sandra Schefkind, MS, OTR/L, Pediatric Program Manager at the
American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). “With careful planning
and consideration of the child’s unique needs and strengths, families
can determine which Halloween traditions are best for the child.
Occupational therapy practitioners can recommend activities or
environmental modifications so that Halloween is a day of fun — not
dread — for children and their families.”

The American Occupational Therapy Association offers the following
tips for caregivers to make Halloween a positive experience for children
with sensory challenges and offer fun alternatives to increase
participation in the activities:

  1. Prepare for the day. Halloween traditions often
    clash with established rules, like taking candy from strangers. To help
    children understand what Halloween is—and is not—read stories that
    reflect your values ahead of time. Unpredictable events like the
    unexpected “boo” or changes in routine like new foods or places can be
    challenging for some children. Reviewing and rehearsing the activities
    through stories, songs, and pictures will help your child anticipate
    activities more favorably.

  2. Make costumes safe, comfortable, and imaginative. Before
    shopping, parents should share costume guidelines with their children
    to prevent in-store meltdowns. Children should wear costumes in advance
    to test their comfort level when walking, reaching, and sitting.
    Costumes that are too long or loose pose safety concerns like causing
    tripping or catching fire. Masks are not recommended since they inhibit
    breathing and vision. Beware of costumes with exposed tags or elastic
    parts. Consider whether your child will feel too warm or cold in
    character. Will your child be willing to wear a coat over his costume?
    Make-up may also feel slimy, and its smell may be off putting. Will your
    child think the fabric is too scratchy, tight, slippery, or stiff? A
    child with sensory processing challenges may appreciate the “less is
    more” approach. For example, a short cape may suffice a superhero
    costume or a green shirt could indicate a turtle or frog.

  3. Trick-or-Treating can be pleasant, up to a point.
    Practice the sequence of walking to the door, saying “trick or treat,”
    putting the treat in the bag and offering “thank you” at homes of
    familiar neighbors. Children may benefit from starting early and
    avoiding the dark. Consider trick-or-treating on quiet streets or only
    at homes of family and friends to keep the comfort level high. Skip
    homes with flashing lights, loud noises, and especially scary
    decorations. Review and rehearse street crossing. Eating candy while
    trick-or-treating can pose a choking hazard or trigger
    allergies. Determine the ground rules on indulging before leaving home.

  4. Cater to your child’s preferences throughout the day.
    Some children will seek opportunities to touch “eyeballs” and pumpkin
    innards because they enjoy touching wet or squishy textures. Other
    children will prefer to keep their hands dry by decorating
    jack-o-lanterns with stickers and markers rather than carving. Devise
    strategies ahead of time by inquiring what party activities will be
    offered. For example, a child who may not like bobbing for apples could
    participate by putting the apples in the bucket. Consider planning an
    event with a few friends, and save large parties for the future.

  5. There’s no place like home. Know when to stop the
    festivities. Look for signs of sensory overload in your child—fatigue,
    hyper-excitability, crying, and combativeness. Often, children like
    handing out the candy just as much as receiving it.

For more ideas, download (in English and Spanish) AOTA’s Tips for Enjoying Halloween with Sensory Challenges.

Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 213,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting standards including accreditations, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., AOTA’s major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, go to www.aota.org.

Amber Louchart

Amber is the proud Homeschooling mother to four beautiful children, Damian (23), Rosaleigh (10), Carlyn (7), Naomi (4) and a wife to her loving husband, Chancellor. Her family also includes three cats. She loves being a stay-at-home mom and feels blessed to be able to care for her children full-time and provide them with so many opportunities through Metro Detroit Mommy.

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