By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L
Halloween is right around the corner! Most kids can’t wait to put on their costumes and make their way through the neighborhood. No child wants to be left out of the fun of trick or treating or holiday parties. Unfortunately for some children this often happen.s However, with some planning and preparation, children with sensory issues or other special needs, don’t have to be left out and can enjoy this exciting time of year.
- Create a schedule for special activities. Tailor the schedule to your child’s needs. Whether it’s a picture schedule or written schedule, using a schedule will help your child be able to anticipate what is coming up and feel calmer. Discuss the schedule regularly and provide information for each transition. Sometimes just knowing what’s next can help children with extra needs feel less anxiety.
- Try using a social story that includes a pictures for your children to help visualize the day and better predict what will happen. You can click here for some sample stories.
- Try having a code word your child can use if he or she feels overwhelmed and needs a break. When your child uses the code word, help them leave the situation for a few moments and discuss coping skills. Again, giving children some control during activities that may be overstimulating will reduce anxiety and enhance the fun.
Decorations like fake cobwebs, scary jack-o-lanterns, hanging ghosts, and mist from fog machines can bother kids with special needs.
- Consider taking your child to explore the Halloween section of a local big-box store. You can help your child get used to the various sounds and sights by pressing the different buttons on the various machines. You can also help them get used to the different sensations by touching the variety of decorations. This can be helpful to figure out which ones to avoid during the festivities.
- If your child doesn’t like the smell or slimy texture of pumpkin insides, there are a ton of different ways to decorate pumpkins. You can use paint or permanent markers and stickers to decorate your pumpkins. Pinterest has a ton of ideas like using playdough, coloring with crayons, or using decorations.
Costumes can be really tricky for our kids. Remember, costumes don’t have to be expensive to be fun and enjoyable for the holiday. When trying to decide on the just right costume, it is important to think not only about the theme but also about how it will feel, fit, and even smell.
- When you find the just right costume, some kids will benefit from washing it a few times to soften the fabric before wearing it the first time.
- Some children might benefit from practicing wearing their costume before the big deal. This will allow your child to problem solve anything that doesn’t feel comfortable. You should practice walking and sitting while wearing the costume.
- It might be helpful to wear comfortable clothes or pajamas under the costume.
- Don’t overlook simple costume ideas. With pinterest now there are a ton of creative ideas that don’t have to involve store bought costumes. You can involve the whole family with themed costumes (this year my family is doing Rock, Paper, Scissors with our regular clothes and few adaptations).
- For trick-or-treaters who use a wheelchair or need help walking long distances, you can get creative and decorate their equipment or wagon.
- For parents who want help in designing or making costumes, there are several resources in bookstores and on the web. Some sites, such as Family Education, provide costume making instructions. Also, organizations, such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and The Bridge School, offer tips and examples of costume ideas. Charities, like Costumes for Kids, collects used costumes and offers them to physically disabled kids too.
Trick or Treating Tips
Trick-or-treating can also be hard. Noisy crowds of kids and flashing decorations. Walking around the neighborhood. Walking at doors. Talking to unfamiliar people. Food sensitivities. Food allergies.
- Do you know about the teal pumpkin? The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to raise awareness of food allergies and promotes inclusion of all children by offering an alternative treat for whom candy is not an option.
- Go out at dusk or before the streets get very dark and crowded.
- Only treat or trick at houses you know.
- Map out and practice the route with your child ahead of time so it feels familiar.
- Pull your child in a wagon or let your older child ride a bike to avoid having other kids crowd/bump into him or her.
- Program a special Halloween message into a communication device for kids who need help with language.
- Have some favorite calm down activities or toys ready in case it gets too much for your child.
Please comment below with any suggestions or strategies that have worked well for you. For more information on Occupational Therapy at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley and helping children with sensory needs visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html.