As a child, I looked forward to going trick or treating. But when I was out there with my dad and sister, the scary costumes others wore and the limits placed on my own sensory abilities sometimes caused stress and anxiety.
Many of our costumes had a plastic mask and clothing to wear over regular clothes. The masks had poor ventilation, limited vision and uncomfortable elastic straps.
However, today there is much improvement in the choices and quality of costumes, which may mean less anxiety for some children. Still, we must remember that Halloween is stressful for children with sensory disorders, such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder.
How to Prepare in Advance
The key is to prepare, prepare, prepare. Some children need much more preparation than others and it is best to have too much rather than not enough. With that in mind, here are some Halloween tips to help your child enjoy the events and limit the stress:
Hold a few Halloween “dress rehearsals”
This will ensure that the costume is comfortable for your child and that they can hear, see and move safely. This also allows you to make any adjustments to the costume, such as:
- Removing scratchy tags
- Making sure a comfortable t-shirt is worn to protect against scratchy material
- Sizing the costume appropriately (not too tight or too loose)
Make a schedule
This will work for trick-or-treating or attending related events, such as fall festivals. The schedule can be completed with words, pictures or a combination of the two and should include timeframes. I prefer to allow my child to help in making this so that they have control over the situation. You know how long your child can spend before they’ve had enough, so consider shortening it just a little more than you normally would do.
Develop a code word or signal
Your family could use this for the child to let you know it is time to go home or take a break from the action. It is important to respect this alert even if you want to continue on. This will give the child control of the situation and having control is important to them. Make sure everyone is on top of that secret code.
Prepare a non-edible reward
If your child has sensitivity or allergies to food or candy, make sure there is some other type of reward for them. If every home is handing out candy, give your neighbors a special item that they can give your child. I always keep some small items, such as tactile toys, Matchbox cars or fake jewelry around and ready to use.