Dressing head to toe in costume, going door to door and asking people for candy, lots of bright lights and spooky noises. It’s almost that time of year, fun for millions of kids who love to go to haunted, decorated houses and go trick-or-treating in their favorite superhero costume. However, for kids with Autism and sensory differences, Halloween can be experienced a lot differently and may not be so fun after all. For kids who process sensory information differently, the costume might be itchy, the lights, crowds, and noises may be very overwhelming, and asking another person for candy may be dreadful. Don’t worry, though, there are things you can do to help your child with sensory differences enjoy Halloween. Here are 5 tips to help support a sensory friendly Halloween.
1. Practice makes perfect!
Practice trick-or-treating in a structured, safe environment before going out in the real world. Role play with your child and take turns knocking on the door, saying “Trick or treat,” putting candy in a bucket and saying, “Thank you!” If your child has delayed verbal skills, try using a visual picture script or their communication device. Also, these Halloween cards are awesome to help other people understand why your child may not say “Trick or treat” after knocking on the door. When they’ve got that part down, try it with a couple of friends and family members. After they’ve got that down, time for the real world! Stay on a familiar route with a safe place (e.g. back home, in the car) for your child to take “breaks” if they are feeling overwhelmed.
2. Find a comfy costume
Your little one may refuse the face paint, masks, and hats so find something that is comfortable to them! If it’s their cotton, tag-free shirt and pants, let them wear that under a costume or even find it in a color that could match the look they’re going for. Try a tighter compression shirt under their costume for added deep pressure, calming input. You may also want some noise cancelling headphones. Do some trial runs around the house with the costume prior to the big night.
3. Introduce a social story or other visual supports
Review a social story for trick-or-treating expectations. There’s a few free ones at Teachers Pay Teachers or check out this one. Knowing what is expected when it comes to sensory, safety, and social issues that may occur while trick-or-treating will help prep your child. Talk about all of the possibilities (e.g. itchy costume, noises, lots of people) and introduce problem solving strategies such as sensory tools (e.g. headphones, ask for a break away from the commotion, deep pressure, etc.). You can also use a picture schedule, a checklist, or a timer so they know what to expect.
4. Start your own traditions
If going out trick-or-treating isn’t for your child, start your own Halloween traditions. Stay home, watch your favorite show under your cozy (weighted) blanket, while eating your favorite snacks. Carve or paint pumpkins, make slime, play games or have a dance party to your child’s favorite music.
5. Be flexible and have FUN!
The most important thing is to have fun! Be open minded and flexible, as you’re most likely unable to predict how the night will go.