Halloween Tips, Tricks, + Treats!


Certain Halloween activities and sensations that other kids enjoy can be challenging for kids with sensory processing issues. Costumes, crowds and unfamiliar sights and smells can all be triggers. With a little preparation, you can help make Halloween easier and more fun for your child with sensory processing issues.

Prepare your child for the holiday traditions:
Discuss some of the traditions and activities that surround Halloween. Read a book, watch a video, create a social story, or role-play some of the events they may experience.  Explain the process of “trick-or-treating” including what your child will be doing, noises they might hear, and lights that might flash at them. Establish and review the rules and boundaries regarding certain activities (i.e. Trick-or-Treating or approaching strangers).

Costume Tips: For a child with sensory sensitivities, it’s important to think about how a Halloween costume feels, fits and smells. If a costume is tight, scratchy, or slippery, or if it has a strong odor, it could bother a child with sensory processing issues. Here are some great tips and tricks for picking out and preparing your child’s costume. 

  • Let your child touch costumes in the store. It helps to know if the fabric is stiff or too scratchy before you buy it.

  • Wash a new costume a few times to soften the fabric before your child wears it.

  • Avoid masks or face paint if your child is sensitive to smells and textures.

  • If your child is sensitive to noise, the sound of his own breathing inside a mask may be an issue. If he wants to wear a mask, have him test it out at the store for a few minutes before buying it.

  • Encourage your child to practice wearing his costume for increasing lengths of time in the days leading up to a party or trick-or-treating.

  • Have your child wear comfortable clothes or pajamas under his costume. This may help him feel more at ease in his Halloween getup. Or he can just take off the costume altogether if it’s too uncomfortable.

  • Don’t overlook simple costume ideas! If your child is sensitive to noise, noise-canceling headphones could be the perfect base for a construction worker or air traffic controller costume. You could even attach ears to a favorite hoodie and a tail to some sweatpants, making your child a cat, dog, rabbit or other animal.

Be aware of the various “treats” that your child is given:
Many candies and foods may contain allergens and trigger food sensitivities. Establish rules on making sure an adult checks the “treats” before the child eats them. Be aware of “hidden” ingredients such as soy, milk products, and red-dye. Parents who have a child with feeding sensitivities should also talk with their child about the different types of candy, such as candy with “surprise centers” where the texture in the middle is different than the outside, or candy that may stick to the roof of their mouth or teeth. This can help children avoid textures they do not like.

If your child does not want to Trick-or-Treat, choose alternative activities:
Trick-or-treating is not mandatory. For some children, “trick-or-treating” may simply be too overwhelming. If it is too much there are other ways to enjoy the festive holiday. Some great recommended alternatives include hosting a Halloween party with one or two of your child’s friends, play fun sensory-friendly games, or inviting friends and family over and having your child “trick-or-treat” from room to room in your house. Additional Halloween activities can include making Halloween crafts, carving a pumpkin, bobbing for apples, watching Halloween themed movies, or even handing out candy at home.  

Tactile Play:
The inside of a pumpkin, or “pumpkin guts”, can be a great sensory experience for your child. Help them cut open the top (if they’re old enough) and squish their hands around the inside of the pumpkin before carving it. The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends making a no-carve pumpkin by painting or decorating the pumpkin without cutting it open if your child is resistant to wet textures. Choose activities that benefit your child’s needs.

It’s important to try to find ways to help your child with sensory processing issues enjoy Halloween, rather than just avoiding it.





By Michelle Bentivegna, MS OTR/L