How my family created a sensory-friendly Halloween

By Amanda Morin on Oct 15, 2015

“Has anyone seen a giraffe on a bicycle?!”

On any other day of the year, my frantic shout to people passing by would have sounded absurd. But it was Halloween, so it wasn’t that strange.

What was unusual was that I couldn’t find my older son. I’d turned around for a minute and the kid in the giraffe costume had pedaled off without me.

Once I stopped to think rationally, I knew he was headed home. My child knew his limits. He hadn’t even wanted to come out trick-or-treating in the first place.

Here I was asking my child, who has sensory processing issues and trouble understanding social rules, to request candy from strangers. And to do it in a crowd surrounded by flashing lights and spooky music from our neighbor’s haunted garage.

It was just too overwhelming to him.

That’s why he’d wanted to take his bicycle. It kept some distance between him and the other kids.

He also didn’t want to visit the candy van sponsored by the local radio station. It made him anxious to accept candy from people he didn’t know — a big stranger safety issue. (And frankly, who thought it was a good idea to loudly broadcast, “Come to the back of the van, kids. We have candy!”)

And that’s why he finally rode off on his bike.

His younger brother benefited from his solutions — and my mistakes.

The next year, we changed our Halloween approach. Instead of trick-or-treating, our older son stayed home to hand out candy. We bought him his own bag of it when it was on sale the next day. Everyone was happy.

Five years later, when his younger brother hit costume age, I expected we’d arrange a similar Halloween alternative for him. After all, our younger son also has sensory processing issues and attention issues. He’s easily overwhelmed and easily distracted, and that can cause him to bolt and run away from us.

My husband and I were hopeful that we wouldn’t have to navigate trick-or-treating this time around. But to our surprise, our younger son wanted to trick-or-treat.

This time, though, we were able to use what we’d learned years earlier to make a plan:

  • We chose to trick-or-treat on a quiet street in the neighborhood.
  • We talked about safety rules ahead of time and only went to houses of friends and family we knew.
  • We let our son know that if he wanted to come home early we’d add to his candy stash — so he didn’t feel short-changed.

But that didn’t solve the bolting-and-running-off issue. How were we going to make sure he didn’t run when he got overwhelmed or saw a friend down the street?

Our older son solved that one for us.

“Doesn’t he want to be a police officer for Halloween?” our older son asked. “Why doesn’t he drive his police power wheel? It only goes like 3 miles per hour. It’ll give him plenty of space from the other kids and we can keep an eye on him.”

Oh, out of the mouths of babes — or, in this case, brothers.

The solutions our family comes up with to manage one of our child’s issues often works for the other, too — but not always. My husband and I are lucky to have boys who can help us find creative solutions to their challenges.

And you never saw a happier police officer and un-costumed brother than in our Halloween photos that year.


Planning on trick-or-treating with your child this year? Learn more about common Halloween challenges for kids with learning and thinking differences. And get more tips on how to help kids with sensory processing issues have a fun Halloween.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.