Halloween is just around the corner! For most Canadians, this exciting holiday filled with scary tricks and sweet treats is fun for the whole family, but for individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) this holiday can sometimes be overwhelming.
Individuals with FASD may experience challenges with sensory processing and emotional regulation. Challenges with sensory issues and so-called “problem behaviours” often co-occur in individuals with FASD. These “problem behaviours” can include attention problems, thought problems, socialization problems, aggressive behaviours, and rule-breaking behaviours, among others.
These behaviours are thought to be an adaptive response to their environment, and a direct result of their issues with sensory processing. Therefore, it can be hard for individuals with FASD to “control” their behaviours, because their brain and body are giving them different information on how to react to the stimuli, which may be different than what we would usually expect.
Halloween can be an overwhelming experience for individuals with FASD because of the increase in environmental stimuli that they are exposed to. A reminder to all Canadians, please be respectful and accepting this holiday season and beyond. Remember that not all disabilities are visible.
We’ve developed some tips and tricks for parents and caregivers of individuals with FASD with sensory processing issues to help you have a fun and safe experience this Halloween. That being said, it’s important to remember that individuals with FASD are unique; they will react differently to different stimuli. Some individuals may experience issues with processing visual and auditory information, while others are sensitive to touch, taste, and movement. There is no one right way to accommodate for sensory issues.
Tips for Parents and Caregivers
- Plan a Halloween that fits your family
You know your child best. Plan a Halloween that fits the needs of your child and your family. If you think trick or treating may be too overwhelming for your child there are plenty of alternatives:
- Host a small Halloween gathering with close friends and family;
- Set up a “trick or treating” scavenger hunt in your backyard or around your house;
- Host a Halloween costume party and movie night with your immediate family;
- Ask a few of your neighbours to hand out candy early to your children to avoid large crowds and ensure a sensory-friendly experience for your child; or
- Get dressed up with your child and hand out treats to other trick or treaters.
- Make sure your child knows what to expect
Prepare your child for what to expect this Halloween. Explain that some people may choose to dress in scary costumes for fun. They might experience large crowds, loud noises, and flashing lights. There are some houses that might have special effects like scary statues and fog machines. A great way to prepare them would be to show them pictures or videos of what they may expect on the day of. If your child knows what will happen, you may prevent behaviours that can happen when they’re surprised or afraid.
- Test out the costume ahead of time
For children with sensory issues, costumes can be extremely challenging. Children may be hyper-sensitive to the point that things like tight clothing, makeup, masks, helmets, or uncomfortable material can cause a sensory overload. Know what your child reacts to and avoid costumes that they might be sensitive to. If possible, have them wear their costume ahead of time to identify any potential issues.
- Dress for the weather
While some children may be overly sensitive to external stimuli, some children experience hypo-sensitivity. This hyposensitivity means that they experience challenges with recognizing and feeling physical stimuli. Their body may not react to temperature cues, like extreme heat or cold. In Canada, we face the challenge of unpredictable weather on Halloween. Some years we have to bundle up in snowsuits underneath our costumes, while other years we are comfortable in a light shirt or sweater.
Make sure your child is dressed for the weather and monitor how they are feeling throughout the night. They may not tell you if they are too hot or too cold; you have to recognize that for them.
- Provide friends and families with information and supports
If your child is going to celebrate Halloween without you (i.e., at a friend’s house, a school activity, with other family members, etc.), prepare these individuals with information about your child’s challenges and needs. Make a small information card listing their sensory issues, steps to take if they become overwhelmed, and contact information in case of an emergency. Be sure they have the supports they need to make Halloween a successful, fun experience for your child.
- Be prepared for sensory overload
Recognize that you may do everything you can to avoid a sensory overload and associated behaviours, but it might still happen. The environmental stimuli that we are exposed to during Halloween can be extremely overwhelming.
Bring assistive tools with you to help your child in the case of sensory overloads. Assistive tools might include their favourite toy or headphones/earplugs that will help them block out noises.
Pay attention to how your child is feeling. If they identify that noises/lights/costumes/decorations are scary, validate their feelings and reassure them by saying “I know they can be scary, but remember they are just pretend.” Be prepared to remove your child from the environment if you think that is the best course of action. This can mean choosing to avoid a particularly scary house while trick or treating or calling it an early night and heading back home to hand out candy. Remember, you know your child best.
Have a safe and happy Halloween, from everyone at CanFASD!