10 Tips for a Sensory-Friendly Halloween

For most families with young children, Halloween is a time full of fun, excitement, and anticipation.  If your child has autism and/or sensory processing disorder, these feelings may  be mixed with a certain degree of uncertainty or stress as you try to figure out how to make the experience as enjoyable as possible while still meeting the varying needs of your child.  To help you strike the balance, here are 10 tips for a sensory-friendly trick-or-treat experience.    

Halloween Costume Ideas

Be sure to take your child’s specific sensory needs into account when choosing a costume.  If a mask or hat is not going to be well-tolerated, for example, avoid costumes for which those are essential components.  If need be, forget the costume altogether.  If you have a kiddo who needs to wear the same clothes every day to feel comfortable, that doesn’t mean they (and you) should be excluded from the opportunity to enjoy the trick-or-treat experience.

Halloween Card

Consider carrying a card with some information about your child that can be handed to others to explain that your child may not be able to say “trick-or-treat”, “please”, “thank-you”, etc.  This can help to avoid any misunderstandings or uncomfortable moments with people who may misinterpret your child’s behavior.  You can see an example of one of these cards here. 

Trick or Treating Times

Start early before too many people are out so you can avoid the crowd.  This can really help to reduce sensory overload since there will be less likelihood of bumping into other trick-or-treaters or having too much noise from other excited kids.  

Practice the Trick or Treat Path

Practice the routine ahead of time.  Let your child wear his or her costume around the house to get used to it before the big night.  Give them the opportunity to practice ringing a doorbell/knocking on the door, holding out their candy bucket, etc. with you, friends, or family members so they know what to do when the time comes.  Map out a route ahead of time and practice walking it a few times.  If there is something that you think could present a challenge for your child, find a way to let them experience it ahead of time when there is less chance it will become overwhelming.  

Teal Pumpkin Project

If your kiddo has food allergies, sensitivities, or aversions, look for houses with teal pumpkins which indicate that the home has allergen friendly and/or non-edible treats to share.  Also consider giving some premade treat bags for your child to some of your neighbors so you can be sure they have treats they are able to enjoy. 

Halloween Safety

Think about safety considerations, especially if your child is prone to wandering and/or gets stressed out in crowds. Be sure to think about possible safety measures such as using a stroller or wagon, having your child wear something with bright colors or reflective patches, or planning a route where you don’t have to cross any busy streets, etc. 

Take Two

If you have other children, consider two rounds of trick-or-treat: one sensory-friendly (and maybe shorter) version and one more “typical” version so all your kids can have a happy experience.  This may not be an issue for every family depending on the household dynamics, but for those neurotypical siblings who may feel a little resentful at having to make accommodations (which is totally normal), this approach could be helpful. 

Halloween Candy Chute

If going door-to-door is too overwhelming, maybe your child would do better with passing out candy to others.  You can even build a simple candy chute so your child can give candy to trick-or-treaters from a distance, which can help both with sensory issues and with social distancing for COVID safety purposes.   

Fun Alternatives to Trick Treating

If trick-or-treating around your neighborhood still just sounds too overwhelming or unmanageable, there are other ways to create a fun experience for your child.  Create a treasure hunt for treats within your own home.  You can create a drive-thru trick-or-treat experience by visiting homes of family members or friends who can hand treats to your child in the car.  You could even just sit back and relax and watch a kid-friendly Halloween movie or make a fun Halloween-themed meal.  Just because it looks different from the norm doesn’t mean it can’t still be just as much, or maybe even more fun. 

Skipping Halloween

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t force it!  If your kid isn’t into trick-or-treat or it’s just too much for them or you, it is okay to skip it.  If it’s not fun, there’s not much reason to do it.  This point really hit home for me when my son was in preschool, and I watched his well-intentioned classroom aide trying to get him to put on his fireman costume while he resisted with all his might.  He ended up having a full-on meltdown and I found myself asking if it was all worth it.  My answer was a resounding “No”! 

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