Holidays can be stressful; twice as stressful if you have a kid with sensory issues. You want to give them good memories and something to talk about at school, but the usual activities might be too much for them. So here are five sensory-sensitive ideas for alternative Halloween celebrations this year.
1. Painting Pumpkins
Sharp knives and candles? Even if my kid didn't have trouble with his fine motor skills I'd have a panic attack about making jack-o-lanterns with a six-year-old. Why not paint them instead? Regular poster paint, acrylic paint, and paint pens all work wonderfully on a pumpkin's thick skin. You can even get stencils so that the design is exactly the way they want it. No tears, no cuts, no pumpkin guts!
2. Low-Key Trick-or-Treating
Many businesses, churches, libraries, farms, and community centers put on Halloween celebrations which include trick-or-treating from booth to booth rather than from house to house. These celebrations are generally held indoors, in good lighting, with nice thick walls between your wanderer and the street. This makes it easier to manage their energy, stimulation level, and safety without having to give up on trick-or-treating altogether. A lot of places even have games for kids to play! Check out your town's social media pages to find safe, fun trick-or-treating festivals in your area.
3. Home-Made Costumes
For a lot of sensitive kids, the way they feel in their clothes is their number one concern. Store-bought costumes can smell funny, fit funny, sound funny, itch, pinch, or otherwise bother a kid who is touch-sensitive. If a child has stims which involve chewing, ripping, or pulling, there are even more issues to consider.
Instead, you can use the clothes they already have (or buy some cheap new ones), and dress those up. With some felt, fabric glue, paint, and a big imagination, your little monster can be whatever they want to be...and stay comfortable.
4. Small, Homey Parties
The social aspect of Halloween is a big draw for many people. You get out and meet your neighbors, community, friends, family, in the dark, while spun on sugar....
Not so much fun if literally all of that will send your kid (or yourself, let's be real) into a meltdown. But that doesn't mean that you have to be reclusive! A small party with a few close friends and some low-key games can be even more fun than going out.
This gives you the control to manage their schedule, by hosting the party during a natural lull (between lunch and dinner, for example); to manage their diet without feeling like the awkward needy friend; and they will have all of their safe places and quiet spaces within reach, if they get too stimulated.
The best part is that you can keep them on their routine, so that you aren't spending the next three days trying to manage the fallout of the disruption. The second best part is they'll probably be down to go to bed on time, which means you might still make it to that Halloween ball after all!
5. Let them bow out.
If you've done everything you can to make it an easy, fun, low-stress Halloween but your kid still isn't going for it; if the face paint and masks are still too much, if paint is as gross as pumpkin guts and the library's Trick-or-Treat run is too full of people, if the whole thing is circling the drain and your kid is making go home noises—let it be.
Having fun Halloween memories is not as important as their own feelings of security. Yes, we want to nudge them out of their comfort zones for their own good, but remember to pick your battles. It won't hurt anybody to spend Halloween at home on the couch. Besides, there's always next year.