While the sights and sounds of Halloween can be exciting for many children, some are completely overwhelmed by the suspenseful music, cackling laughs and grimacing skeletons associated with the holiday. For those children with a sensory processing challenge, such as children with autism, ADHD, developmental or speech and hearing delays, and even many neuro-typical children, the sights, sounds and smells of Halloween are difficult to absorb.
“Children’s routines are disrupted, they are exposed to strange lights and sounds and costumes can be unfamiliar,” explains Dr. Ari Goldstein, director of Cognitive Solutions Learning Center. “While the child might want to participate in the festivities, the uncertainties can lead to withdrawal and confusion.”
“My daughter has a difficult enough time processing her daily experiences,” a friend with an autistic daughter pointed out. “Celebrations such as Halloween add an entire layer to the information that she needs to process and her challenges are magnified.”
Paula Tobey, a special needs parenting coach, suggests that her clients look for alternative Halloween festivities that their children can better tolerate. “Locations like churches and malls can be great places to celebrate Halloween as their celebrations tend to be a little less scary and offer environments that the parent can control a little more easily to fit the needs of their child.”
One way to have your child and his or her friends participate in the ritual of Halloween is to host your own party, taking into account the needs of your child. You can host this party on your own or join with a group of parents who are also looking for an alternative way to celebrate Halloween. You might be surprised at how many families with and without special needs kids enjoy a less stressful, un-scary Halloween party!
When hosting a Halloween party for children with special needs, some things that are important to consider include:
What are the needs of your guests? Take time to find out what the abilities of your guests are, as this will help with party planning from the food to serve to the games or activities to play. Consider the mobility needs of your guests. Do some rooms have to be rearranged to accommodate wheelchairs? What sensitivities do the children have to noise?
Decorations Halloween decorations don’t have to be focused on the scary or the macabre. Try decorating your house with orange and black decorations instead. This will create a festive atmosphere, but will not overwhelm. Decide if candles or flickering lights will be a distraction or hindrance to the fun before you light-up the room.
Costume challenges Costumes can be tricky for children with sensory processing disorders; many do not feel comfortable wearing masks or itchy costumes, and it can be difficult for children to understand the idea of “make-believe.” Let parents know that costumes are optional. Consider having a craft station where children can make their own “costume.” Have them decorate foam visors or tagless cotton t-shirts.
Candy conundrum For children who are on monitored nutrition plans due to food allergies or sensitivities, it can be difficult to navigate ingredients in common Halloween candy options.