With Halloween quickly approaching, it’s important to talk about safety during trick or treating, specifically safety for children with sensory processing disorder.
The fall season is here. The leaves are turning and the air will soon become cold and crisp in the mornings. The department stores that we shop are carrying pumpkin flavored everything and Halloween costumes line the aisles and end caps. As parents, we know what’s right about the corner, Halloween. Our children begin considering who or what they would like to be for Halloween. The ultimate goal in the back of our kids minds, C-A-N-D-Y. The allure of large amounts of sweets, spooky costumes, and overall fun have consumed the thoughts of our children.
There are many wonderfully fun aspects to Halloween and trick or treating. Many may not know or understand how this fun and spooky holiday can be difficult and potentially dangerous to our children who have SPD. To better understand how to help keep children with SPD safe and secure during trick or treating I will be explaining what exactly SPD is.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that causes children to be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to the senses they experience in the world (USPI, n.d.). SPD can affect all five senses: taste, touch, hearing, sight, and smell. Each child that has SPD may display some or all of these senses and could be both hypersensitive to some and hyposensitive to others. It is best to understand your child and the senses that are affected by SPD. For the general public, by understanding this disorder, we can help to alleviate some of the stress that can occur during trick or treating.
There are no definite causes and no absolute for understanding Sensory Processing Disorder, but there are many common shared issues that children with SPD display. The first and most common sense that is affected by SPD is sound. During Halloween there are many different sounds, ranging from spooky music, to screaming, and other scary sounds. Children who are hypersensitive to sound may become scared and act out due to not liking the sound. This acting out could be in the form of tantrums, running away, and physical displays of fear (USPI,n.d.). Avoiding scary houses when trick or treating will help alleviate the chances of your child reacting badly to the environment. For some parents it may even be best to do a small Halloween party at home where the child is comfortable and the environment can be controlled to ensure the child has a positive trick or treating experience.
Aside from sound, the other sense that is heightened during trick or treating is sight. There are many different lights, characters, costumes, and decorations. So many in fact that a child who is visually sensitive may be very fearful of the environment. Especially in regards to their safety, as many streets are dark while trick or treating, and others are very illuminated. The costumes we see during Halloween are both sweet and scary. The costumes that are scary to us normally, can be terrifying to a child with SPD. If you plan to pass out trick or treat candy, please consider not scaring children that come to your house, and also consider having good lighting. By trying to be conservative with the fear factor of Halloween, we can help ensure that children with SPD can enjoy Halloween like any other child in the neighborhood.
Though sight and sound are only two of the sense that can be an issue for a child with SPD, the other three senses are also important to consider when trick or treating. Touch for instance. Children who are hypersensitive to touch, may be scared of large crowds, and may purposefully avoid them for fear of someone bumping into them (USPI,n.d.). This may cause children with SPD to avoid the situation of trick or treating all together. A good way to help a child who has sensitivity to touch is to wait to go up to houses that are very busy with trick or treaters. If you wait until the line dies down and there are less people around, the less overwhelmed or fearful your child may be.
We should also consider sensitivities to smells and tastes. Children with Sensory Processing Disorder may be hyper or hyposensitive to taste and smells. For this aspect of trick or treating, it falls largely on the parenting party to understand their child’s sensitivities and distribute candy or snacks that are best for them and cause the less stress. As a parent who hands out treats to children, there really is not definite on what to hand out versus what not to hand out. Rather I would say just to consider something on the healthy side of things. You can always have an alternative snack for children with SPD. I like to ask if the parent has a preference on treat and give according to what the parent specifies. So I will have a sweet candy, a fruit, and a popcorn or cracker available to choose from. That way no child feels left out and also that the parents have control over the snacks given to their children.
There is a growing population of children with Sensory Processing Disorder and whether you have a child with SPD or not, it is a great idea to be conscious of the safety and security of all children during trick or treating. I hope that this article will help you as a parent to both understand and appreciate the differences in all of our children and help to make Halloween a safe and happy environment for everyone. For more information on Sensory Processing Disorder, and where to seek help if you feel your child may have SPD, please visit Understood.org. This website offers lots of great information for parents who child may have learning or attention issues.
Understanding Sensory Processing Issues