The end of October is quickly approaching, which means Halloween is near. There are so many fun things about Halloween – the parties, costumes, and ALL the candy. But, for students with sensory needs, Halloween festivities can be extremely overwhelming. Here are a few tips to support kids with sensory needs so they can enjoy the Halloween fun as much possible.
Practice and Prepare
Everyone likes to know what to expect when it comes to various events, but this is especially important for students with sensory needs. Prepare children for various Halloween experiences, especially parties or trick or treating. Talk about what will happen at these events to help reduce any anxiety. Roleplay different scenarios and help your child problem solve solutions to potential challenges ahead of time, so when the time comes to participate in the event the child will feel more confident.
Many children can have difficulty with clothing, and this can be maginified on halloween. Costumes can be all different fabrics, some are tight, there’s sometimes masks, gloves, etc. Involve your child in picking out the costume, testing the fabrics to ensure they aren’t too overwhelming. There are some really cute costume ideas for children who may not wear a traditional costume. I have seen many hoodies or tshirts that resemble a character (like Woody and Buzz from Toy Story) without all the complicated costume pieces. Exploring a simple costume like that can allow your child to still participate in the dress up process in a more comfortable way.
Have Sensory Supports Ready
If a student engages in sensory activities to help stay regulated on a typical day, that student will need those supports even more on a day like Halloween. Make sure you have your child’s preferred sensory tools ready to go. These can include noise cancelling headphones, fidgets, or weighted/compression vests. Additionally, if your child benefits from other supports, such as heavy work or movement breaks, make sure to engage in those activities prior to the start of any Halloween event. Helping your child engage in calming and familiar sensory routines before an overwhelming experience may help them participate more successfully.
Have a Backup Plan
Many Halloween activities have a sensory component to them that may be overwhelming, and it is a good idea to try to have a backup plan or alternative activity for your child to engage in. For messy activities like carving pumpkins or playing with slime, offer your child a tool to engage in the activity (a spoon, paintbrush) so he can avoid getting his hands messy. Some parties may have snacks that your child may not like, consider bringing along a similar snack that your child can have so he can participate. Finally, have someone you can call on who can help you exit the activity if it just becomes too much.
Watch for Signs of Sensory Overload
No matter how much we try to prepare for these events, kids may experience some level of sensory overload. Your child may start to feel overwhelmed and may cover his eyes or ears. Your child may become irritable, may cry, may seem anxious, hyperactive or overly silly. When you see some of these signs, it may indicate that it is time to take a break. In these stressful situations, our kids may not be able to effectively communicate how they feel and what they need, so we need to help support them.
The American Occupational Therapy Association has a really nice handout available in English and Spanish that breaks down different Halloween events and ways to support and adapt. One of my favorite lines from this handout is – ‘Trick or Treating is not mandatory! ‘ You can still have a great Halloween even if you don’t go trick or treating, or attend large parties, or play with pumpkin guts. I hope you find some of these tips helpful. Happy Halloween!