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Halloween – Tips To Help

My Experience

Despite the fact, Halloween For Someone with SPD can bring a certain level of anxiety. There is something about this time of year that always gives me a feeling of anxious anticipation. I love when the season’s change and Halloween draws near. The sights, the smells, the tastes, the spooks….well, maybe not the spooks (I am a BIG chicken) but that is a different story for another day. All of these things can be a bit too much though if your sensory system is not performing as it should on that given day.

Halloween For Someone with SPD

As a child, Halloween can bring opportunities for fun and laughter. As a parent, it can bring Instagram worthy moments to treasure for a lifetime. However, if someone in your home or care has sensory processing challenges, Halloween can be an anxious time.

Sensory processing irregularities can either be in the form of a strategy, as in Sensory Processing Sensitivity or a neurological disorder, as in Sensory Processing Difficulties. You can find out more about the differences in the two here. Both of these traits can turn the traditional fall and Halloween festivities into a day that many won’t enjoy.

Think about all of the stimuli that comes with a day at the pumpkin patch, a fall carnival, a classroom party, or a night of Trick or Treating. It is no wonder that Halloween For Someone with SPD can bring distress. It is a sensory cornucopia and left unattended, someone may meltdown before the event is over and a good memory is made.

Tips To Help – Managing Expectations

Let’s explore ways to make Halloween For Someone with SPD more enjoyable for you and your child. Practice and prepare for your event in advance. This is a great time to use a social story and let your child know what to expect. For those that want to trick or treat in a neighbourhood, walk the area with your child in advance so they are familiar with the sidewalks, steps, stop signs, spooky decorations, etc. of the area they will be exploring. These areas will look much different at night, especially when filled with loud and often spookily dressed ghouls and goblins. Attending a costume party, parade or festival? Pull out the costume weeks in advance and have your child get used to wearing it.

Costumes can be tight, itchy and have unpleasant smells, all of which can lead to a meltdown for children with sensory challenges. (See more on costumes below). As you are setting the expectations of Halloween
night, use age-appropriate terms when describing to your child that they may see frightening costumes, hear loud and scary music, be surprised by an unexpected “BOO”, and be in the middle of large groups of people. Yikes! All of that sounds a bit overwhelming for anyone. PRO TIP – my kids love videos. Find age-appropriate Trick or Treating videos that can give kids a great visual of what to expect.

Tips To Help – Events

All the glorious smells and feels. Don’t be afraid to try an activity or event.
You may find that changing up a traditional Halloween activity to accommodate a sensory kiddo may actually work. Have an exit strategy in place if it becomes too much for someone to handle. Hayrides can be itchy and uncomfortable. I always have a thick blanket stashed in the trunk to use in situations like these. It is all about planning and that can help you make Halloween For Someone with SPD much more enjoyable.

To many of us, fairs and carnival food courts smell delicious. Those with sensory complaints may find these smells to be too much and prior planning to avoid these areas may need to occur. Pumpkin carving and/or decorating is a messy, albeit fun, tradition for many this time of year. One of my kiddos exercised his very active gag reflex each time he saw the inside of a pumpkin. My other cherub could never get enough of the scooping and digging of pumpkin guts. If your child isn’t excited about the insides of the great pumpkin, have them use paint, markers, or stickers to show their creative design skills.

On the other hand, if your sensory seeker loves to play in the mush of the pumpkin belly, give them age-appropriate tools and scoops and let them make their own sensory bin in the inside of the pumpkin. Carvable (and gutless) pumpkins are available at craft and dollar stores. Use them for practising carving techniques with older kids under adult supervision. PRO TIP – Since pumpkins come in various weights and sizes, they can also be great for heavy work. Play games rolling them and throwing them at targets. Fill up a wagon and pull it around the pumpkin patch. Make a game of sorting them by size.

Tips To Help – Costumes

Costumes – we’ve got you covered. They can smell, itch and they can
be too tight or too loose. They are what we think of when we think of Halloween, so being creative with the costume design is as important as choosing the costume itself. I love buying costumes at second-hand stores. They have already been comfortably used and may not be as stiff and tight. If secondhand shopping isn’t for you, look within your home for items that can be used as costumes or accessories.

Wear something you already have and that feels comfortable to wear. Make sure the costume is easy to move in and is not too loose to be considered a trip hazard. Consider skipping out on a mask, wig or anything that could be tight on the head. Let us not forget the shoes. They must be comfortable. There has never been a year that I didn’t throw the reliable flip-flops in the wagon as a back up plan to Cinderella’s glass slipper. Always consider the weather in your area when stepping out in costume. If a kiddo gets hot, there is a good chance the evening will end soon and not well.

PRO TIP – Use cute character pajamas as a costume. Throw in a dollar store accessory to finish it up. If they fall asleep in the car on the way home, it is an easy transition to bed. A mom can dream.

Tips To Help – Trick Or Treating

Trick or Treat. It all leads up to this. Going to the door of a stranger and
speaking to them. That goes against so much of what we generally teach our kids about safety. As discussed above, practice and prepare for this part of the night in advance. Practice saying “trick or treat” and “thank you”. Remind your child that you will be right there with them. Think about speaking to some of your neighbours in advance and let them know how brave your kiddo is for coming out of their comfort zone.

Start your evening early; before the scary, loud and large groups of revelers come out. Make sure your child has a specific job that may help keep them focused…carry a flashlight, count the number of Paw Patrol costumes, hold a water bottle, etc. Consider skipping the homes that have excessive décor, music, fog machines or animated characters out front. PRO TIP – add breaks to your plans. Talk about what they have seen and enjoyed. Have a favorite video pulled up on a device and ready to go. Find some stairs or an open area that will allow for some jumping or running (be sure to costume doesn’t hinder activity).

Use a Chewigem for oral motor stimulation to calm muscles and help organize the body. Always remember that the goal of the day is to have fun. If you notice signs of too much sensory stimulation, recognize that there are other ways to enjoy Halloween and head back home before a good time turns unpleasant. My kids enjoyed sitting at the door and handing out candy to others after 30 minutes of trick or treating. And you can always snuggle up and watch some spooky movies, here is a blog on some Spooktacular films to watch at this time of year.

There isn’t a wrong way to do the day. Be creative. Be safe. Follow your child’s cues. Have fun! We hope these tips help this Halloween For Someone with SPD a little easier.

Happy Halloween!

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