Halloween is a time when many children delight in the holiday, enjoying trick-or-treating, dressing up in scary costumes, and getting spooked by Halloween decor. But for children with sensory processing challenges, Halloween can be an especially overstimulating time. The sights and sounds of the holiday can easily become overwhelming, overstimulating, and too much to handle.
For children with sensory processing challenges, Halloween can be an especially overstimulating time.
Many children with autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and other conditions may become easily overstimulated by the holiday.
Parents can support children with sensory challenges by planning around their child’s specific needs, creating a plan together, choosing a sensory-friendly costume, avoiding bright lights and crowds, and having an exit plan in place.
Although Halloween can be an overwhelming time for many children with sensory processing challenges, there are some things you can do to support them in having a fun Halloween that isn’t too overstimulating.
Conditions associated with sensory processing challenges
Many conditions can be associated with sensory challenges during the Halloween season.
Autism is a condition that is characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication. Many children with autism also have sensory challenges because they have difficulty filtering out sensory information. This can lead to them feeling overwhelmed by all the stimuli around them.
This can be especially challenging in busy or loud environments where there is a lot of information to process, which may be more common around Halloween. If your child is on the autism spectrum, it’s important to plan to ensure they can have a safe and enjoyable Halloween.
Sensory processing disorder
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition in which the brain has difficulty processing and responding to information that comes in through the senses. SPD can cause a person to be highly sensitive to certain stimuli. It can also cause problems with coordination and balance. SPD is highly comorbid with autism, meaning that many children with autism also have SPD.
Children with SPD may become easily overwhelmed on Halloween. The sights and sounds of Halloween can be too much for them to handle, and they may become agitated or even panicked. If you have a child with SPD, it's important to be aware of their triggers and plan to make sure they have a safe and enjoyable holiday.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by problems with focus, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Similarly to autism, ADHD is often linked to sensory processing challenges, which can make children with ADHD become easily overstimulated. These sensory processing challenges can also make it hard for kids with ADHD to regulate their emotions and can lead to feeling very anxious and stressed.
Halloween can be a prime time for kids with ADHD to become overwhelmed and overstimulated. Planning using the tips outlined below can help better prepare your family to avoid this overwhelm.
How to help a child with sensory challenges enjoy Halloween
With some careful planning, Halloween can be a fun and enjoyable holiday for children with sensory processing challenges.
Here are some tips to help your child enjoy the holiday:
1. Plan around your child’s needs
Consider your child’s specific sensory needs. Does your child struggle with loud noises? Bright lights? Crowds of people? Constricting clothing? Every child with sensory processing issues is different, so consider your child’s needs in planning their Halloween activities and plan around your child’s specific challenges.
2. Talk it out
Talk to your child about what to expect during the Halloween holiday, including any specific activities like trick-or-treating or Halloween parties. If it’s developmentally appropriate and makes sense with your child’s condition, ask them what they’d like to do and how they’d like to engage in specific activities.
3. Get a good night’s sleep
As Halloween approaches, it's important to make sure your child is getting enough sleep. A tired child may become overstimulated more easily and have a harder time managing their emotions when overwhelmed. To set your child up for success, ensure they get a good night's sleep before Halloween. This will help them to be more alert and better able to handle the excitement of the holiday.
4. Make a plan
Work with your child to develop a plan for Halloween. Gather as much information as you can about what the day will look like, what specific activities they can expect to happen, and how your routine might change. For trick-or-treating, decide which houses you'll visit and have a route mapped out. If possible, use visual cues or a physical schedule to communicate that plan with your child and remind them of what to expect.
5. Choose a costume wisely
Choose a costume that will be comfortable for your child. Limit any fabrics or materials that might be overstimulating, like scratchy fabrics or plastic masks. If possible, allow your child to pick out a costume that will be most comfortable for them. You can also help your child become acclimated to their costume by having them practice wearing it a few times before Halloween night.
6. Avoid bright lights and crowds
Bright lights, crowds, and flashing decorations can easily become overstimulating. Try to trick-or-treat in familiar surroundings away from large crowds. If that’s not possible in your neighborhood, consider going to a smaller neighborhood or trick-or-treating with just a few friends.
7. Have an exit strategy
Have a plan for what to do if your child becomes overstimulated or overwhelmed. Let your child know that they can take a break at any time and that you will be there to support them. Plan to make sure your child has a safe place to retreat to if the sights and sounds become too much. This could be your home, a friend’s house, or even the car. You can also develop a code word with your child that they can use to tell you they need a break or want to go home.
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