by Sarah Lyons
Costumes, Halloween parties with sugary treats, trick-or-treating, and spooky decorations are fun and exciting for most kids, but for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Halloween celebrations can be very overwhelming. A child with SPD has trouble processing input from any of the five senses in a normal way – what is background music to others may be loud and distracting to a kid with SPD, costumes may feel too itchy, make-up may feel sticky, and masks may have a strong scent or may be too restricting for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder.
As a mom of a child with SPD, I have learned firsthand how challenging Halloween can be. My daughter struggles daily to find clothes that are comfortable and are not too distracting. Typically, if we find a pair of pants she likes, I buy as many pairs as we can find. Loud noises or new situations can also be very stressful for her. She has the desire to be part of the fun on Halloween, but as the day approaches the pressure is too much, the costume is uncomfortable, and walking around in the dark knocking on strangers’ doors is scary. I end up frustrated and she ends up disappointed. This year we are taking a different approach to the holiday and I hope these tips help other families dealing with SPD enjoy Halloween too.
Prepare Your Child
Prior to Halloween, talk about how you will celebrate the day. Discuss what situations may be challenging and talk about what will help them feel more comfortable. If going door to door trick-or-treating is scary, do a practice run. Ask neighbors, friends, or family if your child can practice knocking on their door before the day of Halloween so they know what to expect. Try on the costume and make any adjustments needed so that they can feel as comfortable as possible.
Costumes are usually a huge challenge for the child with SPD but luckily there are a lot of options. My daughter prefers to wear her favorite clothes and paint her face. This is what makes her feel comfortable. Other kids may like wearing their favorite pajamas or other soft clothing under a costume, so they cannot feel the itchy fabric on their skin. If your child does not want to dress up at all, try letting them ride in a wagon and decorating the wagon like a car so that they can be part of the fun without having to dress up. Other simple ideas may include: using a prop, wearing a silly T-shirt, or incorporating tools, such as noise cancelling headphones, into your child’s costume. Never make your child feel that they are odd because they don’t like to dress up or go trick-or-treating.
Try to be flexible and prepare a backup plan, just in case things do not go as planned. My daughter was very excited about Halloween and even wore her costume to school, but when the time came to go trick-or-treating with her siblings, she was overwhelmed. It is okay if your child decides to stay home and hand out candy, needs to take a break during trick-or-treating, or wants to head home early. Parents may also look for alternative activities that are just as fun. Many communities or churches offer fall parties that are not scary, are offered during the day, and where costumes are optional.
Halloween can be fun for everyone if families work together to find a way to celebrate that works for all of them. It is understandable that these traditions do not always sound appealing or make sense to kids that have SPD. Consider coming up with your own Halloween traditions such as painting pumpkins, baking treats, or going to dinner or a movie. With a little extra effort, planning, practice and flexibility, Halloween can be something your whole family enjoys.
SENSORY-FRIENDLY EVENTS IN OCTOBER
Sensory Friendly Day at Children’s Museum of Houston
October 15 • 10 am – 3 pm
An opportunity for kids with sensory processing differences to explore the museum. Doors will be closed to the public. Sound-reducing headphones available. Join actor and Houston native Evan George Vourazeris (11 am) for an inspirational message. Outside food and drinks allowed (Fresh Café will be closed). $5 per person. Pre-registration: (713) 535-7238. www.cmhouston.org/event/sensory-friendly
Houston Museum of Natural Science
In addition to special events, the museum has everyday elements including sensory backpacks with fidgets, stuffed animals, ear defenders, sunglasses and other tools. Download the HMNS app for sensory guides, schedules, and games. www.hmns.org
Space Center Houston
Explore science and space with modified lighting, music, sound effects, and a designated quiet room. Special educational activities with trained instructors. Visit www.spacecenter.org for specific dates.
Movie showings where the lights are up, and sound is lowered, so guests can dance, walk, shout or sing. Second and fourth Saturday (family-friendly) and Tuesday evenings (mature audiences). For participating theatres, visit www.amctheatres.com/programs/sensory-friendly-films
Main Street Theater, Houston
Modified performances with increased lighting and lower sound levels. Electronic devices may be used with headphones. Prompt books available to prepare for the show. Tickets are discounted 50% off the regular price. Use code FRIENDLY1819. www.mainstreettheater.com
We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym
A Gym for All Kids. A safe, nurturing, and fun environment to foster learning, exploration and safe sensory experiences. Through their non-profit My Brother Rocks The Spectrum Foundation, they provide social skills groups and activities for children across the spectrum. For Houston area locations, visit www.werockthespectrumkaty.com
Editor’s note: last revised September, 24, 2021.