HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM THE DESK OF MS. JEN (OT at AASL)
Pediatric occupational therapists (OTs) support children, with and without disabilities, and their families to participate in meaningful daily routines and activities. Holiday traditions and other special events can present potential challenges for children with sensory processing difficulties or disorders, and OTs are here to help! In recognition of Sensory Processing Awareness Month and in preparation for Halloween, we are sharing a few of our top tips to help navigate this potentially overwhelming time of year with sensory smart solutions.
- PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE! Create a social story, read a book, watch videos, and/or role-play to help your child understand what to expect on Halloween. Taking a practice loop around the neighborhood will be helpful if your child is going to go trick-or-treating, and getting used to the sound of the door bell ringing and practicing what to say when the door opens will boost her comfort and confidence level as well. Go through the steps and break it down for your child: 1) walk to the door and ring the doorbell, 2) say “trick or treat” when the door opens, 3) put your treat into your bucket/bag, 4) say “thank you” and then walk away. Setting a special set of rules for trick-or-treating will also help to establish structure and a sense of understanding for this out-of-the ordinary event. Many of our traditional “rules,” such as “don’t take candy from a stranger,” do not apply for Halloween, so it is important to provide concrete boundaries in line with your family’s values and expectations for special occasions. Also, keep in mind that trick-or-treating is just one of the many ways your child can partake in Halloween celebrations! If your child prefers to hang back and help pass out candy, that is a fantastic way to participate in the fun. Just make sure to be prepared on this end too: simulate the sound of the bell ringing over and over, and have her practice answering the door and handing out the treats. Another preparation tip: providing calming sensory experiences (swinging, deep pressure, low lighting, soft music, warm bath, lotion massage) before and/or after Halloween celebrations will help your child maintain a regulated state with a change in routine and added stimulation.
- CHOOSE COSTUMES WISELY. Encourage your child to be an active participant in selecting who or what she wants to be for Halloween and facilitate smart costume choices. Avoid itchy/scratchy, rough, stiff, slippery or rubbery materials. Look for costumes that are comfortable and try to steer clear of facemasks or other accessories that could be potentially irritating or distracting. Remember that costumes do not need to be over-the-top or even new items. Create costumes from familiar clothes that your child is used to seeing and wearing. For example, turn your child’s favorite blue shirt into a police uniform by adding a “Chief” badge or “POLICE” vest over top. If your child insists on wearing a specific costume that has “itchy nightmare” written all over it, have her wear a long sleeve compression shirt underneath or her favorite fuzzy pajama top. You may also want to consider costumes that leave room for weighted vests or other compression garments to provide calming proprioceptive input throughout the night, such as a large superhero cape or chef’s apron. Either way, be sure to have your child practice putting on and wearing her costume around the house beforehand to ensure comfort and make modifications as needed.
- PACK A COOL-DOWN-KIT. Plan ahead for potential meltdowns by bringing along a “Cool Down Kit,” if you intend on trick-or-treating or heading to a Halloween party. A few ideas for what to pack in this kit include: your child’s comfort items or preferred toys, noise canceling headphones, favorite snacks, a water bottle, sugar free gum, and fidgets. Ward off melt-downs by pre-setting a time limit for the activity so that your child is able to anticipate the end. On that note, if you have other children, plan to have another adult accompany you guys if possible. This way if your child with special needs becomes too overwhelmed and the “cool down kit” is not enough to re-boot, you are able to take one child home or for a break without having to remove the other from the activity.
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