Have a Sensory-Friendly Halloween

It is estimated that 1 in 20 children have sensory processing disorder and that 1 in 6 children have sensory processing differences that affect their participation in daily life activities.

Sensory processing involves taking in and accurately interpreting information that is obtained through our senses. Children with sensory processing differences may over-respond or under-respond to different types of sensory input, such as touch, sound, and movement. Over- or under-responding to sensory input impedes quality of life for some children as they may strongly dislike certain activities (e.g., having hair brushed) and be more hesitant, or even resistant, to participating in daily routines. Children with sensory processing differences are also more likely to experience anxiety and may respond with aggression to sensory situations that they perceive as threatening.

Families that include children with sensory processing disorders have reported increased difficulty with community participation and instances of avoidance due to being unable to control crowds and plan sufficiently for unforeseen circumstances associated with dynamic social environments. Previous difficulties in certain environments paired with a child’s unique responses to sensory input may cause families to avoid familiar childhood activities, like celebrating Halloween.

Halloween is gaining popularity in the United States. This holiday is often marked by wearing costumes, trick or treating, passing out candy, and carving pumpkins. A child’s sensory processing differences could make celebrating Halloween difficult for some families.

These tips from the American Occupational Therapy Association can help families participate:

  • Prepare your child so he knows what to expect. Show your child pictures, videos, or storybooks to explain what Halloween and trick or treating are all about, as well as the rules they are expected to follow.
  • Consider setting up a “trunk or treating” event, stopping by just the neighbors, or only visiting local business. Your child might also prefer passing out candy instead of going door to door.
  • Allow your child to help pick out, and possibly design, his costume. Some store bought costumes are made of materials that children with sensory processing differences might find uncomfortable. To avoid uncomfortable tactile experiences, consider making a costume out of a t-shirt or a sweatshirt. Check out Pintrest for easy costume ideas.
  • Instead of carving pumpkins, consider decorating them with paint, stickers or pumpkin push-ins.
  • Set responsible time expectations for parties and trick or treating. Pay attention to when your child communicates that he’s had enough and stop. A short experience that is successful is better than a longer one that isn’t.

About Dr. Susan Cahill

Dr. Susan Cahill is an Associate Professor and Director of the MSOT Program at Lewis University. She is a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and a member of the AOTA Commission on Practice. Visit http://www.lewisu.edu/academics/msoccuptherapy to learn more.

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