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Navigating the Costume Conundrum and What to Expect on Halloween Night for Your Sensory-Sensitive Child

by: Meagan Ruffing

With the new school season well on its way, it seems like our kids are more eager than ever to pick out their Halloween costumes for this year’s fright-filled night. Picking out the perfect costume is just half of the fun when you and your family are gearing up for Halloween, but for those parents who have kids on the Autism spectrum, this time of the year can be a catalyst for unavoidable meltdowns. Your first insider tip? Consignment stores are the way to go. Keep reading to find out why… and for 5 ‘tried and true’ tips from a mom who has done the work for you.

Consignment Stores are your best friends for Halloween costumes. Why? Simply put, kids change their minds every few minutes about what they want to be. Add in the fact that your child hates the feeling of any sort of tag on his or her skin and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one unhappy child. Avoid the struggle altogether, and take your kid to a consignment store. For a couple of bucks for each costume, you can let them pick out more than one. That way, if their Spider-Man costume doesn’t feel right on Halloween night, you can let them pick from the other ones you picked up, and not feel bad about the price. As you know, what feels good one day to these children, does not always feel good the next time. Take the worry out of what they’re going to wear and buy several costumes for less money.

Role Play your way through Halloween night. Have your son or daughter get all dressed up in their costume and pretend that it’s really Halloween, before it even happens. This technique helps you work out all the kinks you might run into on the real night, but gives you time to make things right by doing it early. Sometimes the slightest mishap can set off our sensory-sensitive children. Maybe it’s the loud noises, or sensory overload of going from house to house while repeating “trick or treat” over and over again. Ask a neighbor if your daughter can ring her doorbell, and do a mock run before the real deal. Many times these kids are socially delayed, and need to be coached and taught on how to appropriately do the trick-or-treating thing. Setting your child up for success is the key to a smoother Halloween.

Set a Limit on How Much Candy Your Child Can Eat before you start trick or treating. Doing this before the actual night will create a boundary with your kid about what they can expect when candy starts flying his way. Being lenient about their candy consumption is okay for Halloween, usually, but for children who have trouble with impulse, too much candy can be a recipe for disaster. You might say, for instance, that every tenth house they can eat one piece, or maybe one every 35-40 minutes. Do what works for you and your child. If waiting until you get home for the night and laying all of their candy out first is what you decide, then go for it! Kids do better when they know what to expect.

Scary Costumes and Screaming Kids can set any child off, but for children who are sensitive to loud noises and get scared easily, these two things can get them off-kilter to the point where they emotionally shut down. This looks different for everyone, but some physical expressions of this from your child might be screaming back, crying, yelling or even acting out because they can’t process what just happened. To prepare for this, talk to your daughter or son about what Halloween night might be like. Tell them there will be loud noises (do they want to wear headphones?) Tell them there will be scary costumes (do they want to stop and get a hug from you when they see one?) Tell them there might be older kids who run past (remind them to stick close by to avoid getting separated.) Ask them if they have any questions, reassure them that Halloween is a fun night, and remind them to tell you if they need anything while you’re out and about collecting candy. Most of the time, these kids just need to know what to expect, that they’re safe, and that you’ve got their back if they need you.

Take Another Adult if You Can. Having another person with you is helpful if you need to take your kiddo back to the car to cool down for a few minutes. Having that extra person will help things run smoothly for your other children who are not on the spectrum, and want to continue trick or treating. As the parent of a child who has special needs, guilt can creep in when we feel our other children are having to compromise all the time. Holidays are usually that time when the guilt just piles on. Take a deep breath. Have fun. You’ve got this!

Halloween is a great time of the year to let loose and have some fun, but avoiding the stress that can come with busy nights will benefit everyone. Use these tips to get your sensory-sensitive child ready for a night they’ll want to remember and try to enjoy watching this Halloween through your child’s eyes.

With an 8-year-old son who has Sensory Processing Disorder, Meagan Ruffing makes it one of life’s missions to set him up for success. You can read more about her story in her new book, “I See You: Helping Moms Go from Overwhelmed to In Control” available on Amazon.

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