Kids big and little are anticipating Halloween, but this holiday isn’t always enjoyable for children with ASD, SPD, anxiety or motor issues. Putting on a costume can be difficult for some kids to tolerate and nearly impossible for kids that have mobility issues. Kids with endurance and mobility issues struggle to walk up to a front door and ring the bell, but they don’t want to be carried “like a baby”. Even seeing other children in costume or decorations in their own home can be difficult for children that are very sensitive.
What begins as a celebration and an adventure becomes a minefield. And yet, your child may be invited to participate in many Halloween events. You may want to have a party in your own home. Your child may even beg to be involved in things you know they will end up hating, not realizing the challenges ahead. Inclusion is a murky pond for some kids.
Perhaps it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Here are a few ideas that could make this holiday less stressful and more inclusive:
- Costumes can be anything you want them to be. Purchased costumes can be adapted or altered for comfort and tolerance. If you have a child with tactile sensitivity, choosing the fabric that is less irritating is worth a trip to a brick-and-mortar store, or ordering multiple sets online with easy returns. Instead of an eye patch for a pirate, you can use makeup to create one. Princess skirts and Batman pants can be shortened to prevent tripping. They can be bought larger and altered to allow for braces and for sitting in a wheelchair. Hats and headpieces are optional, and can also be switched out for more wearable choices. They can be purchased separately or by combining two costumes. A comfortable costume is fun; an awkward costume will cost you in time, pain and struggle much more than you can imagine.
- Trick-or-treat is over-rated. Choose people your child knows, a neighborhood that has flat, accessible front steps, or even an apartment building with an elevator. The experience of trick-or-treat doesn’t have to be a marathon to be fun: in fact, “fun” is the opposite of dragging stressed children around from house to house. Remember that children with sensory modulation issues will start out excited and happy and become overwhelmed quickly. Monitoring and planning for this helps both of you have fun that doesn’t end badly.
- Many children with sensitivities need to practice wearing their costume until it becomes familiar. They may protest and initially refuse, but some practice can really help them. Make the run-through more fun by pairing it with something like watching a halloween movie at home or putting up decorations. The child that refuses to wear a costume can become the child who doesn’t want to take it off!
- Choose your home decorations with your child’s tolerance in mind. It isn’t always about whether they are scary or not, it can be the brightness, the amount of movement or the sounds that overwhelm children. You won’t always know what will be too much, so prepare yourself and the rest of the family that you may have to substitute/remove/repurpose things that don’t work out.
- Do fun events that your child can handle. Bake cookies, including the buy-and-bake-off cookies that don’t require a lot of effort or time. The end product can be given to friends and family proudly. Decorate a Halloween cookie house. Put up cling-on decorations in windows and storm doors that are easy to remove if they become an issue. Watch a fun movie at home and invite friends to dress up and come over for the show.
Holidays for kids with special needs take more thought, but they don’t have to be less fun, just a bit different. The important concept is to consider your child’s needs and aim for the essential feelings of the holiday: fun, and sharing the fun with others!