Sensory-Friendly Fall Activities
& Halloween Celebrations
Contributed by Kristi A. Jordan, OTR
For those who participate in fall activities and Halloween celebrations, such as choosing costumes, trick-or-treating, enjoying treats, and attending parties or events, it is important to remember to plan ahead for social, communication, and sensory issues that may occur.
Choosing Sensory-Friendly Costumes
It is that time of year when individuals and families begin to look for costumes for Halloween and fall/autumn costume parties and activities. Individuals with sensory issues may choose to plan carefully and consider fabrics, makeup, wigs, and props that do not irritate or provide too much sensory input.
Some simple and practical strategies are:
• Use comfortable clothes as a base for costumes.
• Experiment with accessories and makeup before the big event.
• Have a backup plan. Don’t force an uncomfortable costume, if it is not tolerated. A simple character t-shirt may have to suffice. Avoid unnecessary sensory triggers, such as uncomfortable masks and make-up paint if a known tactile sensitivity exists.
• Provide needed sensory input before the event to prepare and after the event to calm, such as brushing or deep pressure or a warm bath.
• Consider individual interests and choices when planning (favorite characters, movies, etc.) and provide communication assistance in making choices, as needed.
• Be reasonable with the time frame. Whether trick-or-treating or going to an event or party, recognize and respect individual limits and triggers, monitor behavior and sensory responses, and adjust plans accordingly.
• Use social narratives and strategies to explain the purpose of a costume and costume etiquette.
• Prepare individuals for changes in schedule, plan, or activities.
Some sensory-friendly costume ideas:
Autism Society of America Tips:
Many individuals look forward to celebrating Halloween or other autumn-themed events, a time when people can dress up as a favorite character or enjoy special treats and seasonal fun. However, Halloween can be stressful and demanding for individuals on the spectrum, if they are not prepared. Here are some strategies for a more positive experience with “trick-or-treating.”
PREPARE & PRIME VISUALLY: Use social narratives, visuals, videos, and photos to prepare for “trick-or-treating.” There are many options out there, so choose visuals that will prepare for the type of activity you choose. Include steps of what to do at each house. Visit the neighborhood or event ahead of time, if possible, to plan for worst-case scenarios or to prepare for sensory triggers. Consider using a visual schedule for the evening events in a similar format that you use for other activities at home and at school. Include when you plan to leave the house (i.e. after dinner), where you are going to “trick-or-treat,” and what may happen during and after. Unless it would be confusing, you may choose to practice how to say “trick or treat” and “thank you.” If using a visual communication board, remember to include basic requests, such as “I need help” or “yes” or “no” or “I need to go to the bathroom.” For examples, visit our IRCA Visual Supports Page.
BE REALISTIC & BE FLEXIBLE: Remember that Halloween is meant to be fun. If costumes or events aren’t tolerated, be willing to adapt. Have fun and take pictures of the event. Those can be used to prepare visually for next year’s trip.
You likely know what is reasonable for time, number of houses, and for other issues, like waiting to eat candy. If multiple children are going, it may be a good idea to bring a few preferred activities to engage them while riding along. You may also wish to bring a change of clothes and snacks to keep individuals comfortable while waiting for the group to finish.
Remember to check labels and nutrition for candy or treats that may contain allergens or ingredients that your child does not tolerate. Here is one resource for those who are on a GF diet, http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/glutenfreefoodshopping/a/GFcandies.htm
PEER SUPPORT: If “trick-or-treating” is a new and unfamiliar social situation, consider recruiting familiar peers or siblings to go house-to-house with an individual on the autism spectrum. Explain to that peer beforehand (and their parents) that they are helping the individual know how to “trick-or-treat.”
Attending Parties or Events
Parties and events can be stressful and demanding for individuals on the spectrum, if they are not prepared. Here are some strategies for a more positive experience.
PREPARE & PRIME VISUALLY: Use social narratives, visuals, videos, and photos to prepare for the event. There are many options out there, so choose visuals that will prepare for the type of activity you choose. Use a visual schedule for the evening events in a similar format that you use for other activities at home and at school. Include when you plan to leave the house, where you are going, and what may happen during and after. Bring along any visual communication tools that the individual may need.
BE REALISTIC & BE FLEXIBLE: Remember that Halloween is meant to be fun. If these events aren’t tolerated, be willing to adapt. Create a special tradition for your family that is more tolerable, such as a sensory-friendly movie night, dinner at a favorite restaurant in costume, or something the individual will be able to enjoy.
BE SENSORY-FRIENDLY: Plan and prepare for potential sensory triggers, such as smells, sights, or crowds. Often there are strobe lights, fog machines, sound effects, and other sensory stimuli that may be overwhelming to the individual on the spectrum. If so, these events may not be the best choice of ways to celebrate. If these events aren’t tolerated, be willing to adapt.