OT in the Community: Preparing for Halloween
by Lauren Pittard
There is so much excitement around this time of year related to costumes, home decorations, and sweet treats. However, some children are scared of the holiday — and not just because of the ghosts and witches.
Halloween is a time of year that can make a child’s differences stand out. There can be fear or anxiety related to speaking to strangers, being in crowds, wearing uncomfortable costumes, or having food sensitivities. Thankfully, we still have a few weeks to prepare for any modifications or accommodations.
If your child is scared of or new to trick-or-treating, try these strategies to learn the social expectations:
- Discuss plans for Halloween festivities so that your child knows what to expect.
- Read books in which the main characters go trick-or-treating.
- Collaborate with an occupational therapist or other professional to create a personalized social story, which is a short story that describes social situations.
- Role-play trick-or-treating at home. Have your child knock on bedroom doors as if she is visiting neighbors. Practice having your child communicate “trick-or-treating” with his voice, a sign around the candy bucket, or his augmentative alternative communication device. Try incorporating questions the neighbors may ask, such as “What is your costume?”
- Ask family members or friends if your child can visit them in her costume to practice the trick-or-treating routine before Halloween night.
- Attend a local trunk-or-treat event. This may involve less area to traverse and provide a variety of alternative holiday activities.
Does your child avoid certain clothes because they are uncomfortable or hard to manage?
- Onesies or pajama sets are super comfy, and there is a huge variety of options.
- Leggings can be incorporated into an infinite number of costumes: mermaids, bugs, superheroes, dancers, ‘80s aerobics instructors, etc.
- Sweatshirts and athletic pants can morph your child to a sports star or nearly anything else. Some quick DIY work or purchasing character-themed jackets could help create endless comfy ideas!
- Try adaptive costumes from Target’s Hyde and EEK! Boutique. The costumes have flat seams, no tags, and removable attachments for tactile sensitivities. The costumes include a hidden opening for abdominal access to manage tubes without undressing. The clothing line also includes two versions of wheelchair covers.
- If your child uses a wheelchair for mobility, you can find inspiration from Hallowheels, an event hosted by Children’s Assistive Technology Service (CATS) where teams of volunteers create wheelchair-based costumes for children in our area. This year’s applicants and volunteers have already begun the design process. Online voting for the favorite costume design begins on October 28th. If you want to participate in Hallowheels 2020 or any other future CATS events, follow them on Facebook or monitor their website for updates.
Does a weighted blanket help your child stay calm and organized? Make sure to try out a weighted costume around the house a few days before for about 30-45 minutes to make sure the child can tolerate the weight when trick-or-treating.
- Incorporate a weighted vest into a costume, like a fisher, cowboy/cowgirl, or any of the characters from Paw Patrol.
- Decorate a long sock like a snake then fill it with dried beans to drape around his or her shoulders like a herpetologist or zoologist costume.
- Fill a backpack with some toys to add a little weight while dressing up as a turtle, hiker, or Dora the Explorer.
- Create a jetpack from a couple of plastic two-liter bottles. Replace the liquid with dried rice so they weigh about one or two pounds each, then duct tape and/or hot glue the lid back on. To decorate, spray-paint the bottles silver and add some paper flames.
- Use only one bottle to make a scuba diver! Follow the directions above to create a weighted bottle with a secure lid. A scuba diver is also a great costume idea if your child seeks oral input — attach your chewlery or chewy tube to your “air tank” to get the benefits of added weight and oral calming!
With 1 in 13 children having food allergies, The Teal Pumpkin Project promotes a safe Halloween by including non-food trinkets in your treat bucket. To contribute to the national initiative, add a teal pumpkin to your doorstep to signify your home includes safe items for children with food allergies or sensitivities. You can even annually register your home or street on the map so that families know where to safely trick-or-treat. Need non-food trinket ideas? Try these:
- Glow sticks or glow bracelets
- Glow-in-the-dark slime
- Stickers, stamps, tattoos
- Mini Play-doh containers
- Silly straws
- Wind-up toys
If it ends up being difficult to find food allergy-friendly trinkets, or if you prefer that your child does not eat pounds of candy after Halloween, there are several ways to collect candy without feeling bad about not consuming it.
- Switch Witch is a story that describes how the Switch Witch (doll included) takes candy that the child leaves for her overnight and replaces it with a gift the morning after. This could also be done without having the doll or story, but with verbal instructions.
- If your child does not have allergies, but you like to prevent sugar overload, try dividing up the candy into baggies and decide how frequently your child is allowed to have a new baggie.
- Donate your candy to the Ronald McDonald House to add to the candy bowl for family members that are staying close to their child in the hospital.
- Kool Smiles offices in Roanoke, Christiansburg, and Danville allow your child to exchange their candy for a toy as a way to participate in Operation Troop Treats. The donated candy is then sent to deployed US troops.
- You can also donate your candy to your local veterans at the Roanoke Vet Center during their normal hours of operation.
Please keep these strategies in mind when interacting with children within our community. After all, a child’s disability or difficulty is not always visible. It is important to remember that every child is different, so these tips may need to be adapted based on your child’s individual needs and abilities. If you have concerns related to your child’s development, consult with your pediatrician to determine if an occupational therapy evaluation would be beneficial to help incorporate sensory, motor, and/or environmental strategies into your routine so your family can live life to the fullest.
Lauren Pittard, MSOT, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who works at the local children's hospital in the outpatient clinical setting. She is currently pursuing her occupational therapy doctorate degree to pursue her dream of bringing occupational therapy strategies into areas of need within the Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas.