Oct 17, 2018

Tricks, not Treats: Helping A Sensory-Sensitive Child at Halloween

Son and father dressed in costumer as superheroes.

Notes from a GWAEA autism consultant and mom

Kelli Robertson is a trained speech-language pathologist who has worked at Grant Wood AEA for 19 years, and is currently a GWAEA autism consultant and assistive technology coach. She also is the parent of three kiddos who are unique thinkers/learners.

Halloween is just around the corner. I know both kids and adults that LOVE Halloween and some kids and adults who HATE Halloween. If you think about this celebration objectively, it could be considered scary, confusing, and unpredictable. (My oldest son struggled with Halloween and the sensory experience of putting on gear that was uncomfortable. His ‘realist’ personality really struggled to get around the idea of ‘why’ he would want to look different than himself. He didn’t like to look in the mirror and see his face covered with a mask, which led to some meltdowns.)

Let me share some of my learning from past Halloween experiences and touch upon a few considerations that might lessen some anxiety around Halloween:

  • Some kids will have sensory issues with the ‘feel’ of masks on their face or feel ‘smothered’ with a ‘hot’ polyester costume. Follow their lead. As a parent of kids with different sensory sensitivities, I have been creative with just facepaint or an animal headband and typical clothes, or a magician hat and a cape that just goes over their shoulders so they don’t have to worry about changing. Try to minimize sensitivities to clothing textures and temperatures. Think about also minimizing the ‘transition’ of changing clothes for a party if that is an issue for your child.
  • Consider whether it might be more enjoyable for your child to ‘trick or treat’ at a smaller venue - such as a ‘Trunk or Treat’ event at the local high school or shopping mall- where it may be less scary, better lit, and have fewer people.
  • You might consider just inviting the neighbor kids over to practice trick or treating and do a role play of Halloween before the big night. For some kids, this may be all they want. For other kids, this could be important preparatory practice for them so they can more fully enjoy Halloween.
  • Using a schedule or ‘tally’ of how many houses you will go to (I always just pencil sketch on a sticky note) and crossing off items as you go will help reduce anxiety by showing how many you will go to and when it will be time to go home.
  • For more tips, here are a few from the Autism Society.

You are the caregiver and you know what works best for the kiddo in your life. Consider whether the level of anxiety Halloween provokes is ‘worth it’ for your child. The reason for the holiday is for the kids to have fun, so if that’s not the outcome you’re anticipating, it might be time to adjust your game plan and make it more enjoyable for everyone.