For many children, Halloween is one of the most exciting times of the year! From the sights of the costumes and decorations, the sounds of the children shrieking with laugher while the witch cackles next door, to the smells and tastes of various goodies gathered in one’s treat bag, there is so much to delight the senses! But what if it’s TOO much sensory input for some children?
What does it mean to be “Sensory Friendly”?
Sensory friendly is a term that is used to describe a space or event that accommodates the sensory needs of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other sensory processing challenges. Many individuals with ASD have difficulty processing sensory information that most people encounter every day with little or no difficulty; their senses may be over or under-responsive, thus impacting their level of comfort in certain situations. A sensory friendly space is considered one that provides stimuli at more tolerable levels.
Halloween as we know it is not typically considered sensory friendly because of the reasons listed above. Luckily, there are many ways to make Halloween more sensory friendly and inclusive: we’ve compiled 5 ways to do so here!
Wear a sensory friendly Halloween costume
Take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project
Have a movie night
Sensory Friendly Halloween Costumes
Traditional costumes are often uncomfortable and itchy! Some involve slimy or sticky face paint, others have straps and elastics or awkward bulky shapes, and others require placing accessories in your mouth or on your face. For most individuals, this might be perceived as a minor annoyance that can be overcome. But for those with sensory processing difficulties, wearing a costume might be a truly unpleasant and even painful experience!
If you think your child might benefit from a sensory friendly costume, plan ahead. Choose soft fabrics, light accessories and simple makeup (or no makeup at all). If you aren’t successful with finding soft, non-scratchy costumes, make your own or opt for a “normal clothing” costume instead. For example, dress your child up as a cowboy/girl in jeans and a plaid shirt he/she already has in the closet OR just accessorize with some wings or a cape. Alternatively, find comfortable clothing to wear underneath a costume to limit the contact the costume makes with the skin.
Trick-or-treating is a unique social interaction (let’s face it- a downright bizarre one if you really think about it) with very different rules about what is considered acceptable behaviour. On what other night would you walk up to a strangers’ house and ask for candy while dressed up as a monster? For children who are flexible and strong communicators, they may be able to adapt and learn the “rules” of trick-or-treating easily. But other children might benefit from extra practice to ensure success.
Practice at home first by getting your trick-or-treater to knock on your door and say the magic words when you open it. You can also practice saying “Thank you!” after you hand them a toy/treat. After a few rounds, try practicing with other family members, friends, or neighbours. On the big night, if your child is up to going to new houses, embrace it. If not, sticking to familiar homes is great too! You can also look for inclusive, sensory friendly trick-or-treating events near you, such as this one put on by the Children’s Treatment Network.
October 31st can be an filled with many emotions: fear, excitement, disgust, joy, exhaustion, you name it! Some children may not know how to react to new emotions they are experiencing. Model language that your child can use to express their emotions such as, “Ew!”, “Yucky!”, “That scared me! I’m glad it’s not real!” or “Oh no—you can’t trick me”, “That’s fake, it can’t hurt me.” Teach your child that it is always okay to say, “I don’t like that. Please take it away” if they encounter something that frightens them. If your child is non-verbal, pay close attention to their reactions and try to anticipate situations that might lead up to an upset or meltdown.
Teal Pumpkin Project
The Teal Pumpkin Project, by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), is a campaign to raise awareness about children with food allergies and feeding difficulties. Participating in this initiative is as easy as placing a sign in front of your home to tell others you offer non-food treats on Halloween such as dollar store toys, pencils or stickers. This initiative benefits trick-or-treaters who either aren’t able to consume Halloween candy or those who shouldn’t for a variety of reaasons. Feel free to print out the signs here to use at your house!
Sensory-Friendly Movie Night
Cineplex, in conjunction with Autism Speaks, regularly hosts sensory friendly movie screenings. On these occasions, they also accommodate special dietary needs where you are allowed to bring in outside food. The next screening is October 27th- perfect for a Halloween movie night! Be sure to check out their website here for locations offering sensory friendly screenings near you.
We hope we have given you some ideas on how to make this Halloween the best one yet! Have a happy, safe, and inclusive Halloween from everyone at Aurora Speech Clinic.
Communicative Disorders Assistant (CDA)
Aurora Speech Clinic