Halloween is a holiday all children should enjoy. But it can present difficulties for kids with sensory challenges, autism, and developmental disabilities.

Dr. Joseph Galasso at Baker Street Behavioral in Hasbrouck Heights and CEO of The COR Behavioral, which specializes in services for people with autism and developmental disabilities offered tips to ensure that these kids, can too, enjoy Halloween.

It’s important to prepare children with sensory challenges for the big day. Parents should talk to kids about what’s going to happen on Oct. 31, said Galasso.

That means talking about the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the costumes they may encounter while trick-or-treating.

“If we show them their costumes, if we practice wearing those costumes before the day that they have to wear them, we can actually increase the level of success that they’re going to have on that day,” he said.

Kids costumes Halloween parade (Getty Stock / ThinkStock)
(Getty Stock / ThinkStock)

When considering Halloween costume ideas, give the child a choice of costumes. But Galasso said if the child has sensory needs, masks and heavy props should be limited or avoided altogether. Avoid face paint. Many children with sensory disabilities do not like the oily feel of paint on their faces.

It really comes down to planning, he added.

“If you know what costume you want to wear if you know what the day is going to look like and we can plan for it and we can talk about it in advance, we’re going to have a great day,” Galasso said.

Is trick-or-treating right for sensory-challenged kids?

As far as trick-or-treating is concerned, Galasso suggested going out during the day, and not at night when it’s scarier and flashlights don’t need to be used. Avoid going out with a large group of kids.

“We can really manipulate the environment for success and we really have to be tuned in to what the day is going to be like for the kids so they can have a successful day,” he said.

Mike Brant - Townsquare media
Mike Brant - Townsquare media

Consider non-trick-or-treating activities. Galasso said if trick-or-treating is too stressful for a sensory-challenged child, there are plenty of other fun things to explore.

Perhaps just have the child put on their costume and just walk around the neighborhood. Take part in a trunk-or-treat. He said these are often contained, time-limited events. Kids with sensory issues respond better to that.

Don’t trick-or-treat in the neighborhood. Instead, trick-or-treat in different rooms in the child’s house, Galasso suggested.

If parents want to take the child out, consider trick-or-treating at one or two houses in the neighborhood. Then next year, add another house or two to the route and continue to build upon that.

Other ways to plan ahead for Halloween

Plan a Halloween-themed night with family and friends carving jack-o-lanterns. Children with sensory challenges might enjoy the feel of the goo inside pumpkins and can pluck out the seeds.

Have children carry Autism Concern Cards. Galasso said these are small business-like cards that simply state, “I have autism and it can be hard for me to say trick-or-treat, but I’m trying.” That way there is communication that is not intrusive or confrontational and community members are aware of the challenges this trick-or-treater is facing.

Neighborhood houses should also be on the lookout for trick-or-treaters carrying blue pumpkins. These blue pumpkin containers were originally designed for children with autism, but Galasso said he’s seen kids with other disabilities use them.

Happy Halloween for everyone concept.
Aleksandra Medvedeva

The blue pumpkin signifies that they have special needs and the homes they visit are aware of it.

Galasso said it’s important to just take it slow with the kids, prepare them as much as possible and just let them have fun.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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