BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - While Halloween may be a spooky holiday filled with candy, costumes, family fun, and mild scares for many kids, it can be a literal nightmare for children with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, childhood anxiety disorders or other sensory differences. Children with sensory differences and other developmental conditions can experience greater risks of having their daily routines disrupted during Halloween.
Both doctor Cindy Chestaro, a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician, and doctor Melissa L. Gonzalez, a licensed psychologist, at the Our Lady of the Lake Pediatric Development & Therapy Center say taking time to prepare and find the fun that works for your family is the key to a successful Halloween celebration for everyone.
Talk about it. You may think children know that Halloween is just costumes and makeup, but some children can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
- Describe to the child what they might see, including Halloween decorations outside of homes or inside classrooms that could irritate a child with sensory differences.
Be cautious about disrupting routines. Children with autism and sensory differences, may struggle when routines are disrupted, especially if a school party changes their schedule. This can be especially true if other children in the classroom get more rowdy as the energy and excitement builds from all the sights, smells and sounds of the holiday celebrations.
- Tell the child what to expect, show pictures of places, costumes, decorations, etc. Stick as close to a routine as possible and if needed, take a break and find a quiet place.
Gauge their comfort level with costumes and make-up before committing. If a child doesn’t want to wear a mask or Halloween makeup, don’t force it.
- For children with autism and sensory differences, putting on a costume with an itchy or unfamiliar fabric can cause distress.
- Covering a child’s face with make-up or a mask can be uncomfortable and/or upsetting.
- Masks can be especially harmful if it interferes with a child’s line of site, making movement and balance trickier.
Trick or treating is still an option for children with autism and sensory differences, but a lot of advance work may be needed for it to go smoothly.
- It may be helpful for children with autism or other developmental concerns to spend time practicing with family, therapists and teachers to prepare for Halloween festivities.
- If you do trick or treat, stay close to home since the area is more familiar.
- If you are planning to go outside the area, using a picture schedule, social story, or verbally reviewing the routine can help prepare your little one.