My son has Asperger's Syndrome and sensory processing disorder, and for years, Halloween was a tricky holiday for us as a family. (No pun intended.) He was and is easily overwhelmed by the festivities, creatures, noises, and general merriment of the day. While his symptoms have improved dramatically with years of therapy, we still have to be wary about how we celebrate the holiday with our beautiful boy. If you're struggling like I have in previous years, you'll want to know some sensory-friendly Halloween ideas for kids that are fun for the whole family.
Thankfully, the more information we have about kids with sensory processing disorders and how they respond, the more ideas surface on how to have an enjoyable holiday experience with them that more often than not includes siblings and friends as a part of the holiday. But it's also important to know that some disorders, like autism, are on a spectrum, so what's fun and easy for my son may not work as well for your child, and vice versa. It's all about catering to your child's particular strengths, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and tailoring your holiday around that. It might mean you go trick-or-treating, it may mean you develop your own alternative.
There are no hard and fast rules for kids on the spectrum, but safe sensory play is paramount for them, so you'll want to take time to prepare them for the holiday as much as anything else, according to the AOTA. That means you want to practice trick-or-treating, do a dry run of the costume, and also talk to them about the possibilities they might encounter.
1. Painting Pumpkins
Monica Adler, a paraprofessional in New York City, tells Romper that while many kids on the spectrum aren't able to carve pumpkins because of gross and minor motor issues, many find joy in painting pumpkins. She says to be sure to allow them to wear a smock and interact with the paint as they choose.
This is my son's first year where we're having him carve a pumpkin, having only had him paint them previously, but I can tell you, he adored painting the pumpkins. Just make sure the paints are non-toxic, as many kids on the spectrum struggle with mouthing their hands and clothing.
2. Quiet Hayrides
Across the country there are lots of farms and pumpkin patches offering sensory friendly hayrides and corn mazes. These are specifically designed with kids with sensory sensitivity in mind, and they're quiet and without the typical spooky aspects of traditional hayrides. There are extra blankets for kids who are averse to hay, and calming music played. Call around to see if there's one in your area, or make your own in the backyard with their favorite wagon.
3. Popcorn Ball Assembly
This is a fun experience for kids learning their sensory capabilities and working their motor faculties, and this recipe from Jolly Time is perfect. Once the caramel corn is cool enough to roll into balls, allow the kids to roll them for you (with clean hands under close supervision). If kids are particularly sensitive, you can have them wear gloves simply enough. Let your child decorate the balls and roll them in edible glitter or stick frosting eyes on them. It's a ton of fun, and it's delicious. They'll get to eat a sweet Halloween treat without feeling left out of the fun.
4. Mask Making
Like most kids, kids on the spectrum love doing things for themselves. Often, educators and parents have the habit of doing things for them, not out of malice or because we think they can't, but out of efficiency.
Inexpensive mask making kits allow your kids to have a hand in how they're represented on the holiday. I've also noticed that my son is more likely to wear something he's made himself, even when he normally hates anything that even brushes his ear. It's pretty remarkable, really.
5. Movie Night
It might be that your little one isn't ready to go out and trick-or-treat, and that's OK. You can buy candy at Walgreens and stay at home for a movie night. You might even wear costumes — go wild. But, opening those fun-sized candy bars is a really good exercise for their fine motor skills. I remember my son's first occupational therapist admonishing me for opening his KitKats for him, and relaying to me how good it was for him to do it himself. Sure, this means you'll have to be stealthier when you steal some of their candy, but after a few Halloweens, you'll be old hat at it.
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