Safe and Sensory-Friendly Trick-or-Treating

Halloween is a week away, and while it can be a fun holiday enjoyed by many, it can also be stressful or overwhelming for family members with special needs.  Set yourself, and your child, up for success by planning and setting realistic expectations for the day.  Here are some ideas for preparing for and enjoying Halloween with your family:

  • Prepare your child for the holiday by discussing some of the associated traditions and activities.  Read a book, create a story, or role play.  Many Halloween traditions clash with established rules, like taking candy from strangers.  To help your child understand what Halloween is – and is not – review your values and establish rules and boundaries.  Visual schedules and social stories can help to set these limits and boundaries, and create expectations for the event.
  • While shopping for a costume, think about your child’s comfort – children with sensory sensitivities can become overwhelmed by an outfit that is too scratchy, tight, slippery, or stiff.  Test your child’s comfort when walking, reaching, and sitting.  If your child has facial sensitivity, avoid make-up and masks.  
  • On the other hand, hats, earmuffs, and glasses could help reduce sensory stimulation if your child usually tolerates them.  Be creative with incorporating comfort items into their costume.  A superhero’s belt could have weighted added for proprioceptive input, or tight spandex can be worn under, or as part of, a costume.
  • If you want to try trick or treating, focus on a quiet street with sidewalks.  Trick or treating while it’s still light out helps to reduce anxiety and increase safety.  Practice the sequence of walking to the door, saying “trick or treat,” putting the treat in the bag, and saying “thank you.” 
  • If your child is nonverbal or has difficulty communicating effectively, think about having a note card that states something like, “I may not be able to say ‘trick-or-treat,’ but I’m trying!”  
  • If possible, go only to homes of family and friends to keep the comfort level high.  Skip homes with flashing lights, loud noises, and scary decorations.  
  • If trick-or-treating sounds too overwhelming, remember that many children enjoy handing out candy just as much as receiving it.  Staying at home means that your child still gets to see other children in costumes, but can also stay comfortable. 

By Krista Flack, MS OTR/L, Pediatric Occupational Therapist

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