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Surviving a Sensory Loaded Event

Surviving a Sensory Loaded Event

Costumes, flickering lights, spooky sounds and so much more! Halloween is a holiday for the senses and although it is exciting and fun for some, it can be panic-inducing for a child with anxiety or sensory sensitivities.

When my son was an infant, I loved dressing him up and pushing him down the street in his stroller while people adored his costume and chubby cheeks. Through the years, this became a far more daunting task as we began a battle against his anxiety disorder.

We spent the holiday reassuring him about fears that many people don’t even think about and answering questions that sometimes seemed downright absurd. There were too many people looking at him, too many people touching his candy, and what if someone had a dog at the door when he arrived to trick or treat?

The days and weeks leading up to Halloween were tedious and I often found myself frustrated and low on patience. I was missing the joy in my other children’s faces and their excitement went unnoticed. Although it is a continual learning experience, I have adapted some tried and true tricks to help make Halloween (or any other sensory-laden holiday) a treat!

  • Talk, talk and talk some more! Prepare your child with what to expect of the days surrounding Halloween and of the evening itself. It’s impossible to prepare for every scenario, but talk about costumes and masks, lights that might flicker and noises that may be different from what they typically hear. Reiterate that the other costumes are just children or people like them. The more you talk about and prepare your children for what they may encounter, the less power the encounter has over them when it happens.
  • Invest in noise-canceling headphones, or headphones of any variety. By limiting one of their senses—in this case hearing—they feel less overwhelmed and stimulated. Noise-canceling headphones or headphones playing a calming tune can decrease the outside chaos and help them feel a little more in control of the situation.
  • Move at their pace. This can be difficult if you have other children who are determined to hit every house in a three-mile radius, but we’ve learned that sometimes we need to split up. I send my husband with the sprinters and I follow the lead of my son. This may mean we spend ten minutes at one house or I am left in the dust as he hurries through several houses. The success comes with letting him decide that pace.
  • Have a back-up plan. We learned early on that the only consistency about our son’s anxiety disorder is that it is inconsistent. We may have a great year only to find ourselves coaxing him out from under his bed the following year. We have found a back-up plan is necessary not only for him to feel safe and have a great holiday, but for our other children as well. In the past, our back up plan has been as simple as me staying home to watch a movie with him while his dad and the others go trick or treating. Last year, our back up plan was that our son stayed and passed out candy with our neighbor while we traversed the neighborhood. He had say in the situation, felt safe, and ended up having an enjoyable night because we were flexible and had an alternate plan.
  • Pack some extra patience. Halloween is a sugar-fused, high-energy holiday without the added bonus of an anxiety disorder or sensory sensitivities. Extra patience will benefit even the most traditional families. Remind yourself to take some deep breaths, expect the unexpected, and celebrate the small victories of the day and evening.

Each year will present a different experience, but it is my hope that these tips can help you and your child more fully enjoy Halloween. I’m not a medical professional—simply a mom who strives to survive this sensory loaded holiday and hopes you can too!

By: Angela Jamison is a mother of four young children and is always looking for tips and tricks to make her days more manageable. When her youngest son was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, she became determined to educate others on anxiety in young children and how to support the child and their family. When she is not with her family, Angela spends her days as the director of a Christian preschool and loves to read, write and encourage parents in the toughest job on earth. To learn more about Angela, visit her blog at

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