Halloween is a fun and exciting time for many children. Candy, costumes, parties, friends, games…but for a child with sensory processing difficulties, Halloween can be a sensory overload, explained Krystal Butgereit, MOT, OTR/L, a pediatric occupational therapist with Trinity Health.
Here are a few tips and strategies to help make Halloween fun for all kids:
- Use a calendar or other visual aid to helps kids know the countdown to Halloween
- Make a social story
- Utilize a visual schedule
- Make a plan ahead of time such as how many houses you will go to or how many hours you will go out
- Get some heavy work/proprioceptive input in throughout the day
- Eat dinner before you go out and establish how much candy a child is allowed to consume ahead of time
“Halloween costumes can be itchy, don’t fit just right, and can be made out of uncomfortable materials,” Butgereit explained. “Face paint, wigs, fabrics, shoes, and other props involve new sensations that may be distressing.”
To combat this:
- Wear clothes, long underwear, spandex, or pajamas under costumes
- Practice wearing full costume a number of times before Halloween to identify any possible issues
- Wash costumes as able to decrease stiffness of fabrics
- Make a costume out of a comfortable base such as pajamas or a sweat suit.
- Have the child assist with choosing/making costume
- Practice dressing up together and be a positive role model to let the child know the process is not fearful or scary
- Complete therapeutic brushing (per therapist recommendation) prior to putting on costume
- Bring a change of clothes in case the costume ends up being too much so the child can still participate in the events
- Not wearing a costume is also an option
Trick or Treating
Trick or treating can be scary for kids who might become overwhelmed by groups, afraid of the dark, startled easily by loud noises, or just confused by commotion of the night’s activities.
- Bring a flashlight
- Practice trick or treating ahead of time
- Have a complete dress rehearsal and mock trick or treating at your own house (or neighbors/grandparents)
- Take breaks
- Use verbal warnings (two more houses then time to go home) or a visual timer to assist with transitioning out of the activity
- If your child has a food allergy or intolerance, consider providing neighbors with treats to pass out to your child
- If trick or treating may be too much for your child this year, have them dress up and pass out candy
- For smaller children have then ride in a stroller or wagon to eliminate other children from bumping into them, can use heavy blankets for calming
- Provide water in a cup with a straw for calming sucking
- Try going earlier in the day
- Go to an organized trick or treating event such as a trunk or treat or at the mall
Trinity Health’s Pediatric Occupational Therapy department works with children with special needs in outpatient and acute care settings. Occupational therapists collaborate with children and their families to promote development and gain independence in areas of daily living, education, play, leisure, and social participation.
Conditions that may benefit from occupational therapy intervention include, but are not limited to: autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays, orthopedic conditions, post-injury, Down syndrome, prematurity, Cerebral Palsy, attention deficit disorders, genetic syndromes, and sensory processing disorders.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 857-5286.