Halloween Haunts—Keeping Sensory Challenges In Mind
Bethesda, MD —Between 5-15% of children in the general population demonstrate difficulties with sensory processing—the interpretation and response to sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and perception of movement and position.
With Halloween around the corner, the American Occupational Therapy Association recommends the following strategies for all parents:
Read a book—Halloween traditions often clash with established rules, like taking candy from strangers. To help children understand what Halloween is—and is not—read stories that reflect your values.
The costume your child chooses may look great, but make sure it feels great, too—Before shopping, parents should share costume guidelines to prevent in-store meltdowns. Costumes can feel too scratchy, tight, slippery or stiff. Children should wear costumes in advance to test their comfort level when walking, reaching and sitting. Costumes that are too long or loose pose safety concerns like tripping or catching fire. Also consider whether your child will feel too warm or cold in character. Make-up may also feel slimy, and its smell may be off putting. Masks are not recommended since they can inhibit breathing. Beware of costumes with exposed tags or elastic parts!
Trick-or-Treating can be pleasant, up to a point—Practice at “known” homes the sequence of walking to the door, saying “trick or treat,” putting the treat in the bag and offering “thank you.” Children may benefit from starting early and avoiding the dark. Consider trick-or-treating on quiet streets or only at homes of family and friends to keep the comfort level high. Skip homes with flashing lights, loud noises, and especially scary decorations. Review and rehearse street crossing. Eating candy while trick-or-treating can be a choking hazard or trigger allergies. Determine the ground rules on indulging before leaving home.
Avoid chances to feel “eyeballs” and pumpkin innards—Parties and pumpkin carving don’t have to be avoided. Instead of carving a pumpkin, children can decorate jack-o-lanterns with stickers and markers. Devise strategies ahead of time by inquiring what activities will be offered. For example, a child who may not like bobbing for apples could instead participate by putting the apples in the bucket. Consider planning an event with a few friends, and save well-attended parties for the future.
There’s no place like home—Know when to stop the festivities. Look for signs of sensory overload in your child—fatigue, hyper excitability, crying, and combativeness. Often, children like handing out the candy just as much as receiving it.
"During the fall season, family participation can be encouraged through apple picking, hayrides, and harvest celebrations. Choose sensory-rich activities that best fit the unique needs and abilities of your family,” suggests AOTA Pediatric Coordinator Sandy Schefkind, MS, OTR/L.
Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting standards including accreditations, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., AOTA’s major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, go to www.aota.org.