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Halloween is a very exciting and fun time of the year. Families get together, children dress up, and many communities and businesses organize Halloween events for their local neighbourhood. If you have an autistic child or a child with sensory disorder you likely know that Halloween can be an overwhelming celebration. There are scary and loud decorations, uncomfortable costumes, and groups of children running around. As a result, your child is likely hesitant to enjoy Halloween. In fact, trick-or-treating contributes to sensory overload. However, there are simple ways to make Halloween a sensory-friendly experience.
This blog post will provide you with the information needed to create a sensory-friendly Halloween. Additionally, at the end of this post, you will be able to access the Sensory Friendly Solutions Halloween guide for free!
For the purpose of this blog post, we interviewed Trish Hamilton. Hamilton is a mother of a child with sensory processing disorder, who is also on the autism spectrum and works in digital marketing.
Are you wondering what a sensory-friendly Halloween means?
First of all, it is important to know what a sensory-friendly Halloween means. Simply put, a sensory-friendly Halloween is a Halloween celebration that is adjusted to be less overwhelming for the senses. If your child has a sensory processing disorder or greater sensitivities, they will likely prefer more relaxed environments or experiences. Therefore, it is important to be able to modify celebrations and events so all children can enjoy them to the full extent!
Why are Halloween events sensory-rich?
The most popular Halloween activities typically include trick or treating, pumpkin carving, and dressing up in costumes. If you are planning on organizing a Halloween event for your community, you are likely considering including some or all of these activities. For many children, participating in these types of activities is fun, exciting, and enjoyable. However, for children with underlying sensory sensitivities or sensory processing disorders, these activities can be stressful. Halloween activities actually contribute to sensory overload.
Crowds of children
Hamilton explained that a common source of anxiety for many children with greater sensitivities is large groups of people. Typically, Halloween involves interacting with unknown people, children running around, and loud noises. Therefore makes children feel uncomfortable and disengage with different Halloween activities.
Scary and loud decorations
Furthermore, another Halloween tradition is decorating houses and the community with spooky and noisy, moving decorations. Although enjoyed by some children, decorations can also be scary for children with or without sensitivities. For example, the bright lights, loud noises, and unexpected movements of decorations contribute to elevated levels of stress. Ultimately, children with sensory sensitivities may experience sensory overload due to Halloween decorations. According to research, “Sensory and Perceptual Alterations” by Isra Khan and Moien AB Khan (2021), sensory overload can eventually lead to changes in mood, concentration, and ability to communicate properly1. Help reduce sensory overload.
Uncomfortable pumpkin carving
Lastly, pumpkin carving is a very traditional Halloween activity that many children know and love. However, for children with sensory sensitives, pumpkin carving can be an overwhelming tactile activity. Scooping out and carving a pumpkin can be uncomfortable and irritating.
As a result, offer different sensory-friendly activities to include more children.
Tips to have a sensory-friendly Halloween celebration
Look at previous photos or videos from previous Halloweens
According to Hamilton, an effective way to help your child enjoy events and holidays is to help them establish expectations. To do this, show your child photos or videos from past Halloween celebrations before you celebrate Halloween this year. Looking at photos and watching videos gives your child an opportunity to ask questions. It helps them to remember expectations. Your child might talk about what they like or dislike about Halloween. Furthermore, reminiscing allows your child to reflect on past experiences and enjoyable memories. Finally, it is a way that you can remind your child of the different expectations around Halloween.
Practice trick or treating at your own door and with close friends and family or friendly neighbours before Halloween
Another suggestion is to practice trick or treating with your child before Halloween. This allows your child to understand what is involved in the trick or treating process. Additionally, it will give your child the opportunity to practice the conversations that might take place while trick or treating. You can simply do this at your house and at potentially a couple of close neighbours as well. Ultimately, this will help your child gather a greater idea of what will take place on Halloween and feel more comfortable with the process. Encourage your child to incorporate Halloween into play, too.
Find small, local community trick or treat events to attend
A common sensory-rich component of Halloween is the crowds of loud children running around. If your neighbourhood or street is a busy Halloween spot, consider driving to a close-by neighbourhood that is less busy. Trick or treat options might be better for your child, or Halloween at the mall or at a church or community center.
Additionally, Hamilton explained that she takes her son out trick or treating as early as possible to avoid crowds of children. Choose what works best for your child.
Enjoy sensory-friendly Halloween activities
Finally, we love, love, love these ideas for fun and engaging Halloween-themed play. Some children may find many Halloween activities to be too sensory-rich and difficult to enjoy. Therefore, take a look at these sensory-friendly activities and select one that is the right fit for your child’s sensory preferences and exploration!
Make sensory-friendly Halloween costumes
Many children with greater sensitivities may not feel comfortable dressing up in a costume. It may be too itchy, scratchy, or heavy to tolerate. If your child experiences this issue but wants to still dress up for Halloween, it is important to consider the importance of a sensory-friendly costume.
According to Hamilton, a good place to start is to build a costume from everyday clothes. Find a shirt, pants, or dress that your child finds comfortable to be the base of the costume and build off of it. To be even more helpful, you can start by selecting sensory-friendly clothing to be a part of the costume. Sensory-friendly clothing is clothing that is typically soft, seamless, has no tags, and is extra comfortable for your child to enjoy! Check out Chantilly Comfort Wear. Their handmade clothes are simply great sensory-friendly options.
Chantilly Comfort Wear is a Sensory Friendly Solutions’ Favourite Thing. Sensory Friendly Solutions’ Favourite Things recognizes products that help people manage sensory sensitivity or reduce sensory overload.
Additionally, Hamilton suggested having your child try on their costume before Halloween to ensure that they feel comfortable wearing it for longer periods of time. This will allow your child to have a Halloween dress rehearsal. It also lets you fix any challenges early!
Change your expectations as a parent
Although there are strategies to make Halloween more sensory-friendly, Hamilton explained that is equally important for parents to change their expectations, too. If you have a child with a sensory processing disorder, you may not have the traditional Halloween experience that you enjoyed as a child yourself. For example, your child may only want to trick or treat at 5 houses. Hamilton explained that trying to push your child often leads to frustration and the opposite of fun. Therefore, it is crucial to adjust your expectations as a parent and focus on what your child is comfortable with.
“Halloween can be a fun event for parents, or your other children, but this just goes to show that not all children are the same”Trish Hamilton, mother of a child with a sensory processing disorder and autism
Changing expectations is important. For more information about parents’ coping mechanisms for adjusting their expectations for their neurodiverse children, check out this research study, “Coping Over Time: The Parents of Children With Autism” by Dr. David E Gray (2006). It can be hard for parents, who often feel a lot of judgment, too. Find the fit for your child and family. Thank you, Trish Hamilton for sharing your experiences and providing valuable sensory-friendly tips as a parent.
Provide kids with enough understanding of the event
It is important to know that some children struggle to understand the concept of Halloween and trick or treating. If you are hosting an event involving traditional Halloween activities, some children may have difficulty understanding how to behave appropriately. Halloween comes once a year, there isn’t a lot of practice!
Furthermore, children may become easily upset over something that may seem insignificant to you. Likely, children have difficulty regulating their emotions due to sensory overload. Therefore, it is important to ensure volunteers and staff at your Halloween event practice patience. Embrace diversity and ensure all children feel comfortable and included.
Keep extra conversation to a minimum
Hamilton explained that some children with autism find mixed messages around Halloween confusing. For example, parents tell their children they shouldn’t talk to strangers. So a child with autism will follow that rule at Halloween, too. Ultimately, expect that an autistic child may feel it is inappropriate or not allowed to respond to strangers on Halloween. Therefore, it is important to understand that some children may simply find it uncomfortable to interact with strangers.
“We teach our kids to stay away from strangers, so when a stranger talks to them on Halloween they don’t think they should talk back to them”Trish Hamilton, mother of a child with a sensory processing disorder and autism
Eliminate loud music, noisy decorations, extra scents, and bright flashing lights
Loud and scary décor or background music cause a child with sensory sensitivities to feel nervous and overwhelmed. Keep a quiet environment to ensure that all children feel comfortable and welcome.
Bright, colourful, and flashing lighting can also be a trigger for children with sensory processing disorders. So, keep the lighting as natural, calming, and simple as possible.
It is important to maintain a scent-free environment at a sensory-friendly event. Do not use any candles, or perfumes or distribute strong-smelling food or beverage.
The final piece of decoration advice to incorporate at your sensory-friendly Halloween event is to avoid decorations that move. This includes any decorations that may pop up suddenly or move around rapidly. Simply put, try not to scare the guests!
Consider checking out some of these sensory-friendly Halloween craft and decoration ideas for your event!
Eliminate the number of guests at your Halloween event
Lastly, keep the number of guests in your event to a minimum. Inviting too many children and families to your event will increase the noise and overall busyness. Therefore, limit the number of guests. Alternatively, invite people at different intervals or time slots to manage crowds.
Recognize that sensory processing disorders are not a visible diagnosis
Hamilton explained that it is important for people to understand that sensory processing disorder is an invisible diagnosis. This means that you will not be able to look at a child and identify that they have greater sensory sensitivities. Therefore, if you suspect that a child is experiencing sensory overload, it is critical to give them the space and comfort they need.
By following these tips, your child as well as others will be able to enjoy Halloween in a sensory-friendly way!
In addition to these blog post tips, you can get more, customized help. Check out the Sensory Friendly Solutions free resource: A Sensory Friendly Halloween Guide package.
Free Resource: Sensory Friendly Halloween Guide.
- Affirmations to help guide you on how to make trick or treating more sensory-friendly.
- A downloadable sign to post and identify that your event is offering more sensory-friendly Halloween activities.
- A sensory-friendly trick or treating story to help children manage the sensory-rich experience.
Please share this guide in your network of family and friends and let local community organizers know about it too!
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- Khan, I., & Khan, M. (2021). Sensory and Perceptual Alterations. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563136/