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