Sensory Processing Disorder and Halloween
Halloween is an exciting time for kids with the candy, costumes, and staying up late! Heck, it’s a fun time for adults too! But if your child struggles with sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory sensitivities, it can become a real nightmare.
In a nutshell, SPD is when someone struggles to understand the sensory information their body is receiving. “Sensory processing disorder is difficulty identifying, interpreting and responding to sensory input,” says Lucy Jane Miller, Ph.D. These are the kids who can’t find a specific toy in a box full of them, they have meltdowns over sock seams and itchy tags, they panic at the thought of going somewhere loud and crowded. Often when they encounter something they don’t like, it means their brain is struggling to figure out if the input is a danger or not. It can lead to meltdowns and high levels of anxiety, though these kids can be totally typical in every other way. SPD presents itself in many ways and can interfere with everyday life.
This means Halloween can easily be overwhelming with new sounds, sights and activities. Generally speaking, kids are eager to participate and want to be included, so how can you help prepare your child to have their best Halloween yet?
4 Ways to Prepare
Start with a social story.
Create (or find) an age appropriate story about a child in a similar experience. For example, if your 9 year old boy is highly sensitive to flashing lights, loud noises and unexpected visual stimuli (surprises, things ‘popping up’ or moving without warning), create a story about a boy who is just like him. Make him the hero of the story, a brave kid who is ready to go out with his friends and get candy, even though he’s unsure of what will happen.
A social story can mentally prepare him for what could be coming and how he can react. If in the story, the little boy runs up the driveway and suddenly a witch jumps out from behind a tree, allow your child to hypothesize what the appropriate response would be. Maybe it is to scream and close his eyes, maybe it is to reach out and hit the witch, maybe it is to turn and run back to mom, etc. The possibilities are endless, but it allows y’all to create a plan together and to work through the inappropriate responses before they occur.
The story can be referenced throughout the Halloween season and then again when it’s all over. See how the child in the story grows and learns
Find a costume that compensates.
Ensure the best possible outcome by taking their preferences into mind when helping choose a costume. Most costumes can be made from what you have at home or can be easily adapted.
For light sensitivity try:
- Goggles (skier, mad scientist, old school pilot)
- Sunglasses (tourist, celebrity, mobster)
- Veils (bride, genie, belly dancer, ghost)
- Big Hat (cowboy, gardener, Cat in the Hat)
For auditory sensitivity try:
- Ear muffs/hearing protection with accessories attached (rabbit ears, wizard hat, wigs)
- Placing ear plugs in before going out
- A costume ‘head’ (chicken, unicorn, monkey) *I’ve seen these at Target*
For tactile sensitivity try:
- Gloves (boxer, scientist, Mickey Mouse)
- Wear a leotard/bodysuit underneath the costume
- Create a costume out of items already in the child’s wardrobe so there is nothing itchy
- Allow them to carry a preferred tactile item to keep them grounded (blanket, stuffed animal)
- Find a costume with a high level of spandex to provide constant input
There are endless ways to make a sensory ‘safe’ costume. Look online and offer plenty of options while searching.
Utilize the interactive Teal Pumpkin Project map to find homes that are registered online to give out non food treats on Halloween. This helps minimize any drama over candy, food dyes, and any other nasties you may be worried about your child coming into contact with. As always, work to limit or eliminate the amount of candy/sugar treats your child is allowed to have!
Look into alternative options
Halloween doesn’t have to automatically mean trick or treating. Now there are many different options to get out and enjoy the festivities. Look into:
- Trunk or Treat
- Fall Festivals
- Corn Mazes
- Boo at the Zoo (or similar places)
Some of these may be more sensory friendly, depending on your child’s personal preferences. If they are touch/tactile sensitive, an outdoor fall festival with hayrides and a petting zoo may be overwhelming, OR, it could be a great place to work on increasing their sensory tolerance! You have to decide what will be best for you and your family!
As a parent, when things don’t go to plan, it can be frustrating, but don’t limit what your child can accomplish! Do your best to be flexible and try not to put expectations on the activities.