By: Mallory Bruce, MS, CCC-SLP & Jennifer Henderson, OTR/L
Halloween is upon us and all the excitement that comes with the fall season! Some families go “all out” and have costumes ready by October 1st! However, for some children, this tradition can be more daunting because of the many unknowns and inconsistencies that accompany a night like Halloween. “Trunk-or-treats”, fall festivals, and Trick-or-Treating can be very overwhelming for some children with speech and language disorders, feeding difficulties, and/or sensory deficits. Halloween can be an over-stimulating evening to a child’s senses. Keeping that in mind, here are some tips on how to make this evening fun for your child.
Visual: There are many different ways you can help things to not be overly stimulating visually.
- For Decorations: Many sights accompany the idea of Halloween – some good, some funny, and some scary. Make your area (porch, trunk, festival booth) inviting! Incorporate colors such as orange, yellow, and purple as opposed to black and brown to cultivate a welcoming, fun atmosphere. Refrain from strobe lights and lasers as this could be very frightening for children.
- For Costumes: Prepare your child for costumes and masks by talking about the concept of dressing-up. Explain that their friend Johnny is the same person whether he’s wearing a costume or not. Costumes and masks are great fun, but eye contact is a very important part of communication for children with speech or language disorders. Keeping your face visible allows children to participate in communication using effective eye contact.
- For Food: Sometimes reaching into a large bowl to choose 1 piece of candy can be intimidating and overwhelming. Have some pre-made treat bags available, or offer items besides food such as small toys or stickers.
Hearing: When participating in fall festivals or Trunk-or-Treats, the atmosphere can be very loud and somewhat chaotic. It is important to remember to be patient with these children as they adjust to their surroundings and say “trick or treat!” Saying “trick or treat” may not be as easy for some children as it is for everyone else. Give children ample time to greet you with a “trick or treat” and reassure them with a pleasant, patient countenance.
Taste: More and more in today’s society, children are susceptible to food allergies and food sensitivities. It is very important that we be sensitive to this matter and provide alternatives. The Teal Pumpkin Project is one way to alert others that you provide non-food treats for children with food allergies. Simply paint a pumpkin a teal color and place it on your porch – this will let everyone know you provide non-food treats.
Touch: Some of you may be thinking, “What else can I give out on Halloween besides candy?” Some ideas for non-food treats include things such as glow sticks, bouncy balls, and rubber pop toys. These items are toys that the child can play with at home. Other beneficial toys would be bubbles and whistles that promote oral-motor coordination. Ideas could also include erasers and pencils that the child can use at school. All of these items can be found at a local dollar store or on party supply websites.
Practice: Some children may need to practice wearing their costume and practice the routine of what to do and what to say before the big night. Talk with your neighbors and see if you can set-up a pre-Halloween Trick-or-Treating time. Or, find community events such as the Pumpkin Party at Brightsong, to practice wearing the costume, being around others in costumes and Trick-or-Treating. If your child needs help with the sequence of events, print off this visual sequence strip for them to use:
Our goal is for each child to feel a part of this fun night. By taking an extra step in preparation and thinking “outside the box,” this allows families the opportunity to participate in every way.