Halloween is such an exciting time for children, but often we find that children with sensory processing difficulties can experience challenges that create barriers to successful participation in what should be a fun and exciting experience.
Halloween can be challenging for several different reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that this deviates from a child’s normal routine. Halloween activities that may be new or unexpected, so children may need some support navigating this novelty. Halloween can also present unique sensory challenges, whether that be wearing uncomfortable costumes, being in a space that is visually cluttered with decorations, or experiencing loud noises or bright lights. Children may also be pressured to interact more socially with peers than they may be used to or comfortable with during Halloween celebrations or trick-or-treating.
A great way to support your child in preparation for Halloween is to put the holiday on a visual calendar or make a “Halloween countdown,” and talk regularly about when this special day is coming and what to expect. Prior to Halloween, you can also create a visual schedule to help your child know the order of events, and review this with them regularly.
Another great way to help your child know what to expect on Halloween is by reading a social story with them. These stories are created individually for children and it helps teach them about things they can expect and things they can do on Halloween. You can create a custom social story for your child and their needs (wearing a costume, trick-or-treating safety, etc.), or ask their occupational therapist or speech therapist about creating a social story.
Because Halloween can be an overwhelming sensory experience for children, making a plan for providing organizing sensory input can be a key strategy to help set them up for success. This can include having them carry around a hand fidget if they’re feeling nervous or anxious, providing them with sunglasses if lights are too bright, or wearing noise-canceling headphones if the sounds are too loud. If your child is particular about food, you may want to bring a preferred candy so they don’t have to worry about tasting a food that doesn’t feel safe to them or missing out on this social experience with their peers. Finally, make sure your child has a designated safe space that they can go to before and after Halloween activities to help them regulate and reset.
We hope these tips and tricks help you to prepare your child for Halloween festivities. Please feel free to reach out to your child’s therapist to see if there are any more individualized supports that your child may benefit from to support their participation in this holiday. And most importantly, have a Happy Halloween!