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A Sensory Sensitive Halloween

Tips to help families living with SPD enjoy the spooky (noisy, itchy, sticky, sugary) holiday.

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Halloween parties with sugary treats, trick-or-treating, costumes, and spooky decorations are fun and exciting for most kids, but for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Halloween celebrations can be overwhelming. A child with SPD has trouble processing input from any of the five senses. What is background music to others may be loud and distracting to a kid with SPD. Costumes may feel too itchy, make-up may feel sticky, and masks may have a strong scent or may be too restricting.

As a mom of a child with SPD, I have learned firsthand how challenging Halloween can be. My daughter struggles daily to find clothes that are comfortable and not too distracting. Typically, if we find a pair of pants she likes, I buy as many pairs as possible. Loud noises or new situations can also be stressful for her. She wants to be part of the fun on Halloween, but as the day approaches, the pressure is too much; the costume is uncomfortable and walking around in the dark knocking on strangers’ doors is scary. I end up frustrated and she ends up disappointed. This year we are taking a different approach. Here are some tips to help other families living with SPD enjoy Halloween, too.

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Prepare Your Child

Prior to Halloween, talk about how you will celebrate the day. Discuss what situations may be challenging and talk about what will help your child feel more comfortable. If going door to door trick-or-treating is scary, do a practice run. Ask neighbors, friends, or family if your child can practice knocking on their door before the day of Halloween so they know what to expect. Try on the costume and make any adjustments needed so that they feel as comfortable as possible. 

Get Creative with Costumes

Costumes are usually a challenge for a child with SPD, but luckily there are options that feel just as festive. My daughter prefers to wear her favorite clothes and paint her face. This is what makes her feel comfortable. Other kids may like wearing their favorite pajamas or other soft clothing under a costume so they can’t feel itchy fabric on their skin. If your child doesn’t want to dress up at all, let them ride in a wagon decorated like a car, spaceship, boat, or other favorite mode of transportation; they can be part of the fun without having to dress up. Try a prop, a silly T-shirt, and incorporate tools, such as noise cancelling headphones, into your child’s costume. Never make your child feel that they are odd because they don’t like to dress up. 

Plan for Detours

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Be flexible and prepare a backup plan just in case things don’t go as expected. My daughter was excited about Halloween and even wore her costume to school, but when the time came to go trick-or-treating with her siblings, she was overwhelmed. It’s OK if your child decides to stay home and hand out candy, needs to take a break during trick-or-treating, or wants to head back early. Parents may also look for alternative activities that are just as fun. Many community recreation centers and churches offer fall parties that are not scary, are offered during the day, and have a costume-optional policy. 

It’s understandable that these traditions don’t always sound appealing or make sense to kids that have SPD. Consider coming up with your own Halloween traditions such as painting pumpkins, baking treats, or going to dinner and a movie. With a little extra effort, planning, practice, and flexibility, Halloween can be something your whole family enjoys.

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