How to Create a Sensory-Friendly Halloween Event

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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. However, it is important to recognize that many Halloween events feel overwhelming and inaccessible for children with sensory sensitivities. Therefore, it is important to create an inclusive sensory-friendly event that all families can enjoy!

This blog post will help you understand why many Halloween events that you may be planning are sensory-rich. Additionally, you will learn simple strategies to modify your upcoming Halloween event to make it sensory-friendly. Lastly, at the end of this post, you will be able to access a free resource from Sensory Friendly Solutions: Sensory Friendly Halloween Guide.

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.

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.

children in costumes for a sensory friendly halloween

Crowds of children

Hamilton explained that a common source of anxiety of many children with greater sensitivities is the large groups of people. Typically, Halloween involves interacting with unknown people, children running around and loud noises. Therefor 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 as a result of these decorations.

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.

7 things you can do to offer a sensory-friendly Halloween event

Infographic highlighting 7 ways to offer sensory-friendly trick or treating.

Provide an extra dose of patience and understanding to the children visiting your event.

It is important to know that some children struggle to understand the concept of Halloween and trick or treating. Additionally, if your event involves 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

Critically, children with additional sensory sensitivities may also struggle with language and communication skills. When anyone, child or adult is stressed, your cognitive (thinking) level goes down. Expect that children may be shy and struggle to speak to strangers. Therefore, keep conversation to a minimum. Especially with children who are hesitant to socialize. Remember to respect each child.

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

Scale down or eliminate extra noise, music, or noisy decorations.

Another suggestion to help make your Halloween event sensory-friendly is reducing noise. Loud and scary décor or background music cause a child with sensory sensitivities to feel nervous and overwhelmed. Keep a quiet environment at your event to ensure that all children feel comfortable and welcome.

Reduce or eliminate flashing, flickering, or strobe lights.

Additionally, 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.

Avoid or eliminate decorations that move.

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!

Dilute or eliminate extra scents

It is important to maintain a scent-free environment at a sensory-friendly event. Do not use any candles, perfumes or distribute strong-smelling food or beverage.

Eliminate the number of guests at your Halloween event

Lastly, keep the number of guests is 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.

Your goal is that all children enjoy your Halloween event. Make your event sensory-friendly; ensure that all guests participate and engage comfortably.

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.

Sensory Friendly Halloween Guide

Sensory Friendly Halloween cover

Halloween is a sensory-rich experience that can easily become overwhelming for many children.  Learn about sensory-friendly trick or treating to make Halloween fun for all children.

  • Get a printable sensory-friendly sign for your door.
  • Have list of things of easy changes to make.
  • Access a story to help children who struggle with the sensory-rich experience at Halloween.

Want to learn more about how to host seasonal sensory-friendly events to be accessible and include more children and families? Then check out:

Listen to our guest for this blog Trish Hamilton on the radio. Follow her on Twitter. And check out her digital marketing work.

Illustration of group of people. Ages ranges from babies to seniors. Some people are in wheelchair or scooter, pushing a baby stroller, have a prostetic limb or wear a hijab. All designed in a blue and orange colour pallet.

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