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 children running around. As a result, your child is likely hesitant to enjoy Halloween. 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 for your child. 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, mother of a child on the autism spectrum who also has sensory processing disorder.
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!
Did you realize that trick or treating is a sensory-rich event?
Many parents are unaware that Halloween is an extremely sensory-rich holiday. Everyone is wearing costumes, houses and lawns are decorated, some homes play spooky music and decorations are designed to be scary. In addition, there are crowds of people walking on the street. All of these things cause children to experience sensory overload. Therefore, if your child shows different behaviour around Halloween, it is likely due to these sensory-rich factors.
Hamilton explaines some of the sensory-rich factors that her son finds irritating during Halloween. In addition to the crowds of people, her son becomes uncomfortable talking to strangers while trick or treating and being outside at night time. Hamilton shares that her son becomes upset due to a combination of all the different sensory stimuli around him on Halloween.
6 ways to make Halloween a more sensory-friendly experience for your child
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. Trunk or treat options might be better for your child, or Halloween at the mall or at a church or community centre.
Additionally, Hamilton explained that she takes her son out trick or treating as early as possible to avoid crowds of children.
Choose a way to go trick or treating that is a match 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 with 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 extra comfortable for your child to enjoy! Check out Chantilly Comfort Wear. Their handmade clothes are simply a 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 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) 1. It can be hard for parents, who often feel a lot of judgement, 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.
By following these tips, your child will be able to enjoy Halloween in a sensory-friendly way!
Free Resource: a Sensory Friendly Halloween Guide.
To help people and communities offer sensory-friendly trick or treating we developed a FREE package of Halloween resources for you that includes:
- Affirmations to help guide you on how to make trick or treating more sensory-friendly.
- A downloadable sign to post on your door identifying your household or event as offering more sensory-friendly trick or treating.
- A sensory-friendly trick or treating story to help children manage the sensory-rich experience that you can read or watch/listen to on YouTube.
Please share this guide in your network of family and friends and let local community organizers know about it too!
Sensory Friendly Halloween Guide
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.
Do you want to learn more about how to make holidays and events more sensory-friendly for your child? The check out these blog posts below:
- 7 Ways to Have a Sensory Friendly Thanksgiving
- Choose a Sensory Friendly Santa Claus Parade for Your Child
- 5 steps to a Sensory Friendly Christmas
- Make Your Child’s Visit to Santa a Success
- 4 Tips to Manage Sensory Overload and Holiday Stress
- Create a Sensory-Friendly Easter Egg Hunt
- 10 Tips for a Sensory-Friendly Easter Bunny Visit
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- Gray, D. E. (2006). Coping Over Time: The Parents of Children With Autism. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 50(12), 970–976. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2788.2006.00933.x