Fall is in the air! Which means, if your Ninja’s are like mine, Halloween costume debates are in full swing. My children’s enthusiasm for any holiday comes from their mama. I love to celebrate any and everything–because life is worth celebrating! So far–and this can change–we will have a Pumpkin, a Star Wars Stormtrooper, and Link from the Legend of Zelda.
Halloween is a night of fun, friends, and candy. But for children who have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), it can be uncomfortable. From constricting costumes, loud (sometimes spooky) noises, and crowded spaces, a child’s sensory triggers can happen at any moment.
With a little creativity, planning, and awareness of what your Ninja’s triggers are you can take back the Halloween fun and avoid potential sensory problems.
Things like fake cobwebs, the mist from fog machines, pumpkin “guts” and bowls filled with mystery goo are not a tactile-sensitive child’s best friend.
- Before the big night, try taking your Ninja out to your local store and let them explore the decor. Let them try pushing buttons on things that move or light up. If you feel your Ninja can properly handle touching items, then let them get hands-on. Take the mysterious talking skull off the shelf and let them hold it. Tactile seekers learn by touching. Hands act like an extra set of eyes.
- Decorate your home! Not only is it a fun family-engaging activity, but it will also help your Ninja feel more comfortable and confident with all the unknown spooky sights. Let them help you hang the fake spider webs around the yard. It is an excellent way to let them get involved, touching, and overcoming a potential sensory trigger.
- If you Ninja is completely turned off by the sight and smell of a pumpkins insides, try alternative pumpkin crafting. In the past, we have used paint or permanent marker to color and decorate our picked pumpkins. We have also opted for fake pumpkins to carve. These are a great option because you can reuse them for years to come and help your Ninja remember the past Halloween fun.
From the smelly, slipper, static causing material, silly or scary, costumes can be a nightmare for some Sensory Ninjas. When helping my Ninja come up with a perfect disguise, I like to steer him away from the costume aisle at Target altogether. Sometimes we pull inspiration from there, but for him, I rarely buy the one size fits all items.
For example one year my Ninja wanted to be Batman. Instead of buying the Batman suit in the Halloween section, I found a cotton Batman t-shirt with an attached cape and black sweatpants. I then purchased an accessory kit that had Batman’s mask and gloves. He was the best Batman at the party because he was comfortable and happy! Plus he could wear to school, minus the cape.
Here are some other ideas to help make dressing up easy and fun:
- Have your Ninja touch the costumes in the store. They will naturally avoid any fabric that is uncomfortable to them.
- Wash any new costumes a few times to help soften the fabric.
- Avoid paint if your child has a sensitivity to smells.
- Avoid masks if your child has a sensitivity to sound. The sound of their breathing inside of their mask might cause issues. If they want to wear a mask, have them try on for a few minutes before buying it.
- Let them run around and play in their new costume at home. It can help them be more comfortable for the big night. If they are unsure about the costume encourage them to wear it for increasing lengths of time leading up to Halloween.
- If you do opt for a one piece costume, have your child wear a lightweight shirt, or PJ’s under it to keep the costume seams from rubbing against their skin.
Trick-or-Treating can be hard for kids with SPD. It’s noisy and crowded. Decoration will be flashing or moving, and people are rushing from place to place. It is a perfect storm for a sensory meltdown.
It will take time to learn what the warning signs are for your Ninjas triggers, and even knowing them; you still might miss them. You might want to try a word or signal your child can use when they start to feel overwhelmed. Plan and have a safe space for your child to take breaks as needed.
Halloween is a contradiction to all our “stranger-danger” lessons. Encouraging interaction with strangers is a tricky situation for children with SPD that struggle to understand social rules. My Ninja is a super-social kid and will engage with everyone, which is fantastic that he is friendly and kind to others, not so much when it comes to his safety.
We navigate that sort of situation by participating in our church’s Trunk-or-Treat event, and the “stranger-danger” rules are still the same. However, It’s a community that we know well, and feel comfortable having our Ninja engaged socially.
Some other suggestions to help manage Trick-or-Treating:
- Walk the Trick-or-Treating rout with your Ninja ahead of time, so it is familiar to them, and you.
- Go out at dusk. There will be more light for your child to navigate with, and the streets will be less crowded.
- Bring glowsticks or a flashlight. I will have each of my children wear a glow bracelet on their ankle should they run ahead of me; I can quickly locate them in a group.
- If your Ninja can still fit comfortably, have them ride in a wagon.
If Trick-or-Treating is too much for your Ninja, make your own Halloween traditions instead of the norm! Maybe your tradition could be whole family dressing up and sitting on the porch to pass out the candy to fellow kids. Or you might consider hosting a small costume BBQ with family and friends. If all that still seems too much for your Ninja, a quiet costume move night with all their favorite treats might be just the ticket!
Whatever your Halloween traditions are, old or new, remember to be safe! And have fun!
*feel free to share your costume ideas in a comment below!!*
photo credit: Julia Raasch