Halloween is a fun time for kids to dress up and explore their favorite interests, stories and characters. At the same time, the experience can be overwhelming for children with developmental disabilities. Scary costumes, flashing lights, loud noises and other sensory stimuli can get in the way of having a good time.
Here are a few tips for making Halloween fun and memorable for the whole family.
Choosing the Right Costume
If your child wants to dress up but has clothing sensitivities, there are an increasing number of options for fun, adaptable and affordable costumes. Search online for “adaptive Halloween costumes” or “sensory-friendly Halloween costumes.” You’ll find costumes for sale and ideas for simple, homemade options.
If you’re going the homemade route, start with clothing you already know is comfortable for your child. Try decorating a sweatshirt with iron-on decals and fabric paint. A raincoat can be transformed into a firefighter’s outfit by adding removable tape. A favorite pair of themed pajamas can work without any alterations. Try adding a cape made of material that’s comfortable for them.
Have your child try on the costume a few times to make sure it fits comfortably. There’s always the option of not dressing in costume at all, which is a great way to go if means your child is happy.
Costumes to Avoid
Masks and face paint may irritate your child’s skin. Masks also narrow their line of vision and may interfere with their balance. Skip the face decorating and opt for a non-constricting hat instead.
Dark colored costumes reduce your child’s visibility at night. Consider light colors or adding reflective tape and decals to make sure drivers can see them.
Plan Ahead for Trick-or-Treating
If your child wants to go trick-or-treating, but you’re worried about over-stimulation, consider taking them for a walk in the neighborhood a day or two before Halloween. Point out the houses you plan to visit and tell them what to expect. “We’ll knock on this door and say, ‘trick-or-treat!’ People may be wearing costumes when they answer the door.”
You know your child best, so asking questions and talking about their preferences will help. If your child is non-verbal, use their preferred method of communication. At the same time, take note of the houses with flashing lights, scary decorations, or loud sound effects you’ll want to avoid.
For more preparation, you can put on a Halloween mask or costume and then take it off, so your child knows it is make-believe. You can even practice early and to a trial run of trick-or-treating at your own front door.
Start Early, End Early
Consider getting an early start and head out trick-or-treating before it gets dark. Flashing lights will not be as bright, crowds will not be as big, and everything should be a little less scary. Also consider ending the night early. You can visit two dozen houses or just two houses – whatever works best for your whole family.
Look for Community Events
A variety of places have Halloween celebrations – from schools to local community centers to shopping malls. Many of these events take place during the day and are less intense. Check-in with your local autism groups to see what they are up to as well.
Consider Celebrating at Home
Invite a small group of family and friends over to have a Halloween celebration at home! The kids can go trick-or-treating from room to room or out in the yard collecting treats at each location. Another option is to try a scavenger hunt, providing clues to help them search for hidden goodies. You can also choose to have your child help hand out candy to other children who visit your home.
A Memorable Holiday for All
Whatever you choose to do, trust your instincts. Be ready with a backup plan if you go to a gathering or trick-or-treating and your child needs to take a break. Your child’s and family’s happiness, comfort level and fulfillment are the most important things to keep in mind. Happy Halloween!