Between 5% and 15% of children demonstrate difficulties with sensory processing—the interpretation of and response to sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and perception of movement and position. How do you adapt the environment and activities on Halloween for these children? The following tips are from pediatric occupational therapists.
To help your child know what to expect:
Prepare your child for the holiday by discussing some of the associated traditions and activities. Read a book, create a story, or role play. Many Halloween traditions clash with established rules, like taking candy from strangers. To help your child understand what Halloween is—and is not—review your values and establish rules and boundaries.
To have your child wear a costume:
Be sure costumes aren’t too scratchy, tight, slippery, or stiff. Test your child’s comfort when walking, reaching, and sitting. Costumes that are too long or too loose pose tripping and fire hazards. Consider whether your child will be too warm or too cold in character, and whether he or she will also need a coat. If your child has facial sensitivity, avoid make-up and masks. Masks can also occlude vision.
To take your child trick or treating:
Focus on a quiet street with sidewalks. Trick or treating while it’s still light out helps to reduce anxiety and increase safety. Practice the sequence of walking to the door, saying “trick or treat,” putting the treat in the bag, and saying “thank you.” If possible, go only to homes of family and friends to keep the comfort level high. Skip homes with flashing lights, loud noises, and scary decorations.
To help your child avoid a meltdown:
Limit the duration and number of people and activities. Give your child choices and advance notice of the sequence of events. Help your child learn to advocate by practicing phrases like “when is my turn?” or “please don’t touch me.” Know when to stop or disengage from the festivities by recognizing sensory overload—fatigue, hyper excitability, crying, combativeness, etc.—and immediately go to a quieter, smaller space.
Download the AOTA tip sheet here:
To learn more, visit the website of the American Occupational Therapy Association at www.aota.org.
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