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How to Have a “Sensational” Halloween!

Halloween…a holiday filled with goodies, costumes, gooey pumpkin carving, bobbing for apples, and spooky encounters! It’s a fun experience for most children. However, those who experience sensory processing challenges may find this sensory-filled holiday difficult to enjoy.


What is sensory processing?

Sensory processing is identified as the way our body interprets and responds to sight, sound, smell, body position, and body movement. The senses allow us to experience the world around us and teach us how to engage in our daily activities. When a child experiences difficulty with sensory processing, typical childhood experiences can be very difficult to tolerate, especially on Halloween.

Does my child have sensory processing challenges?

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, 5-15% of children in the general population of the United States experience sensory processing challenges. A child who experiences difficulty with sensory processing on Halloween may look like this:

· Has difficulty tolerating face painting and pumpkin carving.

· Is overly sensitive to wearing “scratchy” Halloween costumes.

· Demonstrates difficulty tolerating changes in their daily routine, such as school parties or trick or treating.

· May hold their hands up to their ears when at crowded events.

· Becomes overly excited or overly tired and “sluggish”.

· May appear somewhat clumsy and have difficulty grabbing “just one” piece of candy.

Does this sound like your child? If so, here are a few suggestions on how to adapt activities and alter your environment on Halloween so your child can fully experience the main event. (These tips are accumulated from many pediatric practitioners as well as PTC staff who have experience with addressing sensory challenges.)

Prepare your child.

Help your child to understand your traditions and what to “expect” of the holiday. Read stories and sing songs. Role play “trick or treating” with family and friends. Talk about or provide pictures of the Halloween schedule and do this prior to the day. By doing this, you will help your child understand what Halloween is and what “it is not” by establishing the ground rules. Also, repetition helps your child anticipate the unexpected “BOO!” with a little more enjoyment.


Wear a sensory friendly costume.

Let your child select their costume. Don’t force your child to wear what is uncomfortable to them. Have your child practice wearing costumes on multiple occasions. Try wearing everyday clothing items, such as a familiar shirt, pants, or tights. Pick a costume that is a “safe size” by avoiding any loose fitting or longer items that may increase the risk for falling down. Avoid face paint or face masks if your child has difficulty tolerating anything near their face, difficulty breathing, or difficulty with vision. When looking into a costume consider whether your child will be too warm or cold while in character and whether he or she will require a coat. If so, make sure there are parts of the costume that can easily be removed or added. Lastly, remember, it is okay if your child does not want to wear a costume!


Trick or treating.

Before trick or treating, practice before the big day and review the traditional sequence. Review the neighborhood route in advanced. Trick or treat in familiar settings by going to family and friends houses. Avoid houses with flashing lights and scary décor. Go trick or treating early to avoid larger crowds to reduce anxiety and increase safety. Lastly, trick or treating is not mandatory. There are many other activities that your child can participate in that can meet their sensory needs. Have your child hand out candy, roast pumpkin seeds, pick apples, or decorate pumpkins with a variety of mediums (crayons, markers, paint, and stickers).


“Less is more” policy.

Limit the duration and number of activities your child is involved in. Pick 1 or 2 events to attend or give your child a choice of the activities. Keep the costume simple. Set a time limit for trick or treating. Simply knowing when to stop the festivities, can limit anxiety, stress, and emotional meltdowns. Signs of overload may include: overly excitable, fatigue, crying, and combative behaviors. If you notice these signs, immediately go to a quiet place.

In conclusion, Pediatric Therapy Center occupational therapists work closely with families and their children to support participation in activities of daily living. Children may experience difficulty tolerating many traditional events and holidays, such as Halloween, and PTC occupational therapists are here to help. Contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s specific sensory needs. Remember, Halloween is “sensational” and a fun experience meant to be had by all.

Sara Welniak, MOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist





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