Halloween and Sensory Issues
Halloween celebrations can be tricky for a child with SPD. Before you commit to that store-bought costume only to find your child won’t wear it (too itchy! too tight! too loose!), before you load up on candy with artificial colors and flavors that none of the kids including your own really need, you need to know how to make Halloween more sensory friendly for a child with SPD. Parties, costumes, makeup, and treats—you can’t count on any of these being fun for the sensory child (which is probably why October was named National Sensory Awareness Month).
Costumes and masks often involve new sensations against the skin and body that a child will find distressing. Experiment beforehand with any makeup, masks, wigs, or hats and see if the child can truly tolerate them for a few hours. For a costume, consider working from the basic pieces of a soft, cotton top and bottom, such as a sweatsuit or pieces of clothing purchased at a used clothing store or pulled from his play clothes pile. Add elements and props that he can hold or wear comfortably.
Treats with plenty of sugar and artificial colors and flavors should be limited for all children, but kids with sensory issues are often more sensitive to these substances. Let her gather all her loot after trick or treating and choose the favorites, then have the rest mysteriously disappear overnight (maybe after using them as math counters!). Or hoard it to use a piece at a time as rewards for overcoming challenges, doing extra chores, or use in therapy (speak to your child’s occupational therapist or speech therapist about the possibilities, for example). If your child has food allergies and intolerances, skip the highly processed, sugary treats altogether. Have a party instead of going trick or treating, and provide healthy, fun snacks and nonfood items such as stickers, pencils, and toys. (Oriental Trading is a good source for these fun giveaways.)
Plan for the event and offer opportunities to escape from the noise and bustle of a party or trick or treating. A quieter street to walk down or an empty bathroom where she can regroup and help her avoid sensory overload. Let her know what to expect, from kids jostling her in doorways and running past her on the street to scary sounds and lighting changes like strobe lights at a Halloween party. And consider celebrating Halloween at a nature center, zoo, or cultural center with a quieter, more structured program, or having a small party at home.
You may want to use the occasion to talk about fears and how to manage them. Books such as Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley, featuring a monster the younger child constructs then deconstructs as he turns the pages, can help.
Feel free to share your child's favorite sensory-friendly Halloween costume!
You'll find more practical strategies and tips for everyday challenges kids with sensory issues face in the award-winning Raising a Sensory Smart Child.