Costumes, Halloween parties with sugary treats, trick-or-treating, and spooky decorations are fun and exciting for most kids, but for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Halloween celebrations can be very overwhelming. A child with SPD has trouble processing input from any of the five senses in a normal way—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 for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder.
As a mom of a child with SPD, I have learned first-hand how challenging Halloween can be. My daughter struggles daily to find clothes that are comfortable and are not too distracting. Typically, if we find a pair of pants she likes, I buy as many pairs as we can find. Loud noises or new situations can also be very stressful for her. She has the desire 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 to the holiday and I hope these tips help other families dealing with SPD enjoy Halloween too.
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 them 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 can feel as comfortable as possible.
Costumes are usually a huge challenge for the child with SPD but luckily there are a lot of options. 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 cannot feel the itchy fabric on their skin. If your child does not want to dress up at all, try letting them ride in a wagon and decorating the wagon like a car so that they can be part of the fun without having to actually dress up. Other simple ideas may be – using a prop, wearing a silly T-shirt, or incorporating 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 or go trick-or-treating.
Try to be flexible and prepare a backup plan, just in case things do not go as planned. My daughter was very 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 is okay if your child decides to stay home and hand out candy, needs to take a break during trick-or-treating, or wants to head home early. Parents may also look for alternative activities that are just as fun. Many communities or churches offer fall parties that are not scary, are offered during the day, and where costumes are optional.
Halloween can be fun for everyone if families work together to find a way to celebrate that works for all of them. It is understandable that these traditions do not 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 or a movie. With a little extra effort, planning, practice and flexibility, Halloween can be something your whole family enjoys.
Sarah Lyons is a mother of six children, including triplets. She has been published in over 160 parenting publications and is a regular contributor to Boston Parents.