Although Halloween can be an exciting time for many, it can be a frightening time for kids with sensory processing issues, especially those with special needs. The novelty of the holiday and unexpected factors can lead to anxiety. Keeping routines as normal as possible is helpful.
Costumes can be irritating and wearing masks or make-up may be very troubling for children with tactile sensitivities or heightened sense of smell. Costume choices can be simplified to include more everyday type clothing. Dressed in a red and white striped shirt and blue shorts, with an apron and paintbrush, voila, your child is a French painter. Perhaps add a beret, if the painter is okay with that. A Lifeguard is another easy one, with shorts and “Lifeguard” shirt. Wearing a sport team jersey can be a good option. Wearing clothing or pajamas under a costume may provide comfort from seams if you do opt for a costume. Be sure to practice wearing the costume in advance of the big day. This may require several days of practicing adding an element each day if there are many parts. A Halloween tee-shirt or socks may do the trick! Pajamas/sweat pants/leggings/ thermal underwear can be turned into a costume by painting with glow-in-the-dark paints, or regular fabric paints. Wearing pajamas and carrying a stuffed animal may be a great costume onto itself!
Setting a limited time for trick-or-treating is much better than waiting until a melt-down occurs. Letting your child know when there is “15 minutes, and then we go home.” Giving a ten minute and five minute notice that trick or treating is wrapping up is helpful. Similarly, mapping out a route ahead of time is best. Remember to include breaks and a healthy snack and drink for your child. Bringing along a wagon with a blanket and pillow may provide a nice sensory break as well as a good ride home. Having a flashlight can be a fun diversion.
Other activities, like reading your child Halloween themed books, may be a nice way to spend time. Little Jack and Boo: What Could We Do This Halloween? by D.L. Sherwood is a great book to get in to the spirt.. Your child may prefer staying home to hand out candy and seeing the costumed visitors. If that becomes too overwhelming, turn off the porch light and trick or treaters should get the idea. Having a small party at home with family or friends may be more enjoyable option as well. Shopping malls and downtown shops often welcome trick-or-treaters and may provide more structure and predictability for your child. Walking, or riding in a town parade may be a good option for some.
Remember that limiting candy is an essential way to making the day a success. High amounts of sugar, food coloring and additives may quickly lead to a hyperactive and/or irritable trick-or-treater, whether you’re a child or adult. There are many ways to get rid of unwanted candy, to prevent behavioral episodes and maximize nutrition.