Trick or treat! Fall season is just around the corner and, depending on your sensory threshold, it's a festive time with costumes and special treats -- or it can be, well, sensory torture. The itchy feel of a costume, noisy parties and an overload of food can be more harmful than helpful if you live with a sensory processing challenge or neurological special needs such as Autism, SPD or ADHD.
The good news is that with some preparation and planning, everyone can enjoy the season and partake according to their abilities. Here are a few tips for a wonderful fall festival, Halloween, dress-up party or ‘wear your favorite costume' day.
Costume CautionBefore you go out and purchase your favorite costume, consider your child's sensory needs. If they are over responsive to fabrics, you may want to think through the best options. For example, a child who insists on wearing the princess or warrior costume made from sandpaper will be much happier slipping on a compression t-shirt under the costume to ward off itching. Or consider a cape and superhero costume that lightly lies across the neck and shoulders. This will allow you to put a weighted vest, compression vest or other weighted accessories under the costume/cape for calming sensory input. Another fun option is Magical Apparel with a choice of weighted vests designed with themes of a police officer, fire fighter, EMT or fairy princess.
PrepareLet your child know what will be happening, where and when. In addition, lay down clear expectation in regards to parties and candy. If your child is anxious about crowds, noise reduction headphones are helpful filters. Also allowing children to express and discuss their concerns is valuable and stress relieving. In addition, you may want to schedule a sensory session with a favorite swing or trampoline before or after your outing.
Walk It OffTrick or treating can use up a lot of leg power and that can be a great workout. Decide ahead of time how much walking you think your child can tolerate and perhaps decide ahead that when they've had enough, you will stop. Even two or three homes can be a wonderful experience. Fifteen can be overkill. Figure out what is best for your child to avoid fatigue or meltdowns. Pack a pocket gel fidget to keep busy fingers occupied and avoid opening candy.
OrganizeWhether it's counting down days on a calendar or counting houses or treats, Halloween offers a lot of opportunity to organize the mind and our internal time clocks. Use this time to think of ways to sort, organize and departmentalize to make your party or outing a brain booster as well. You can sort candy by colors, type or texture. Kids can help set up bowls of candy for a party or trick or treaters.
VerbalizeHelp your child express what they are excited, nervous or happy about in regards to the holiday. It may help to use an emotional regulation tool as well. Then work on some phrases like "Trick or Treat" so they can say it themselves. After the experience when you're back home, ask them questions like, "Which costume was your favorite?" "Which candy do you like best?" "Why?" "Describe what you saw." This interaction can encourage verbal and storytelling skills as well.
Halloween can provide a wonderful experience for kids and adults, and a great all around sensory experience -- from walking in the dark, to tasting sweet and sour, to motor planning skills, communicating with different people and being a part of a community. Use your good judgment and you are sure to get a few treats yourself.