Halloween can be a fun and festive holiday with lots of great opportunities for sensory development. However, for those with sensory sensitivities, it also has the potential to be a little overwhelming with the risk of sensory overload. Halloween can often be overwhelming, scary, and unusual. Here are some sensory strategies from our Occupational Therapists to help make Halloween less scary and more enjoyable for all kiddos.
- Safety first! As always, make sure to set your child up for success and safety. If you know your child has a tendency to run or hide (especially in overwhelming or stressful situations) make sure that everyone you are with is aware so they can keep an eye out, as well as have contact information on your child if they get separated and are found by another adult. If they are wearing a mask or a very popular costume, give them something easily recognizable so you can pick them out of a crowd.
- Practice your Halloween Routine! Use a visual schedule, social story, or imaginative play to prepare your child for the sequence of events that occur when Trick or Treating or handing out candy at home and any potential opportunities for loud noises, crowds, doorbells, or other events that could be surprising. You can also print a map of your neighborhood and draw your path starting from your house. They can also use this map to stay on task during trick or treating!
- Provide lots of opportunities for heavy work throughout the day to help prepare your child’s nervous system for new experiences. Great examples of heavy work would include jumping on a trampoline, climbing monkey bars or ladders, animal walks, squeezing or flattening playdoh, pushing or pulling something heavy, and crashing into pillows.
- Pumpkin Carving Messy Play! Pumpkin carving can be fun messy play for some, but for others, touching pumpkin seeds can be aversive and meltdown-inducing. Try using a spoon or simply allow your child to watch you touch pumpkin seeds. Modeling how it’s okay to be messy is a powerful tool in tolerating messy play. Alternatively, pumpkins can be decorated with paint, markers, or stickers instead of carving.
- Ensure that your child has the opportunity to try out their costume in advance, especially if they have difficulty tolerating certain clothing textures or accessories. If they cannot tolerate wearing a store-bought costume, it might be better to create a homemade costume out of clothes that your child already wears without a problem. Make sure to allow them time to wear it around the house to become more comfortable. Many places now sell sensory-sensitive costume options as well, so keep an eye out for those.
- Have a sensory safe space available if your child becomes overwhelmed—ideally, this space will be quiet or filled with music your child finds calming. Noise-reducing headphones can be helpful in tolerating noise from crowds or from the doorbell.
- Warm up the body before heading to events. It is important to stay hydrated and take breaks during trick or treating. Be sure to have comfortable shoes. Take pictures before going out with the fun shoes, but to help your child walk longer and without pain, switch to a comfortable shoe. Shoes with good arch support normally do the trick! This is essential when walking long distances around the neighborhood. Don’t forget to stretch after you come home!
- Consider having your child carry a blue pumpkin bucket while trick or treating. Blue trick-or-treat buckets have come to be known for raising awareness for Autism. The blue buckets could provide a subtle way of alerting people that this child or young adult may not be able to make eye contact, tolerate wearing a mask, or even say ‘thank you’, but they certainly deserve to enjoy the fun of Halloween as much as everyone else.
These are just a few tips for a more successful and enjoyable positive Halloween experience. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s development please give us a call at 1-800-376-3440. Happy Halloween from the occupational therapists at TEAM 4 Kids!
Haley Cummings M.S., OTR/L