Halloween - JackolanternsGetting ready to trick-or-treat?  Candy, treats, parties, parades, costumes, masks, makeup…it all sounds like lots and LOTS of fun, but for the sensory sensitive child, it may feel like a challenge.   If your child has some difficulty with sensory processing (the interpretation and response to sight, sound, touch, taste, and perception of movement and position) Halloween may actually feel really scary and overwhelming.

You know your child best!  Taking the time to prepare in advance will help your child to enjoy these festivities so much more. Allow your child to make as many choices as he or she can with regards to costumes, makeup, parties and other activities that he/she would most like to participate in. Try to keep things simple for them and for you too!  By planning and discussing everything ahead of time, your child will feel better prepared, more comfortable and in control, and hopefully calmer too.

It may also be important to talk to your child in advance about some calming tools/strategies that he or she can use, or a calm quiet place that you can enjoy together along the route when one of you needs a break from the fun and excitement!

Here are some more tips to consider:

If you would like to: Consider these activity tips:
Help your child know what to expect. Read a book, create a story, or role play. Many Halloween traditions clash with established rules, like taking candy from strangers. To help your child understand what Halloween is—and is not—review your values and establish rules and boundaries.
Have your child wear a costume. Remember that “pretend” does not necessarily involve elaborate costuming. For example, a simple green shirt may suffice to indicate a turtle. Be sure costumes aren’t too scratchy, tight, slippery, or stiff. Test your child’s comfort when walking, reaching, and sitting.
Take your child trick or treating. Trick or treating is not mandatory: Meaningful participation in Halloween festivities could include helping to roast pumpkin seeds or picking apples. Often, children enjoy handing out candy as much as receiving it.

Practice the sequence of walking to the door, saying “trick or treat,” putting the treat in the bag, and saying “thank you.” If possible, go only to homes of family and friends to keep the comfort level high. Skip homes with flashing lights, loud noises, and scary decorations.

Have your child participate in a party. At Halloween parties, some children enjoy wet or sticky textures like pumpkin filling and skinless grapes, whereas these make others feel uncomfortable and even nauseous. Instead of carving a pumpkin, decorate a jack o’ lantern with stickers and markers. A child who won’t enjoy bobbing for apples can put the apples in a bucket. Consider planning an event at home with a few friends.
Help your child avoid a meltdown. Limit the duration and number of people and activities. Know when to stop or disengage from the festivities by recognizing sensory overload—fatigue, hyperexcitability, crying, combativeness, etc.—and then go to a quieter, smaller space.

Tip chart modified from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) website article Enjoying Halloween with Sensory Challenges, 2011. To view a PDF printable version of the original chart please visit HERE.

Have a fun and happy Halloween!

Susanne Williams, BScOT (c)


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