Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween plus Sensory Processing Disorder Equals a Marriage Made in Hell

Halloween and the Sensory World are often a marriage made in hell.

Do you agree? Is this too strong a way to put it?

As the mom of a teen on the Autism Spectrum, tell me you disagree – I can take it. But give me a moment before you do.

Live in my house during the last few weeks of October. Shop with me at the party store late August – or the grocery store in September. Watch my kid try her best not to go to bed with nightmares.

Fun times.

(And people think the winter holiday images are offensive…)

For many, what awakens the senses this time of year is precisely what draws them to it. The sounds, eerie lighting, the chance to be something graphic and provoking - and all else that goes with it. But for many on the Autism Spectrum, and those with Sensory Processing Disorder, in particular, this time of year is nothing short of a nightmare come true.

Much of it comes down to their interpretation of the sensory world around them. Just as the sights and sounds draw people to this month, the flickering lights in orange and purple, the echoing screams broadcast in stores and throughout many neighborhoods, and the gory imagery make many very uncomfortable and much more than scared. They become terrified.

They shake. They cry. They cover their ears and eyes as they go aisle to aisle, and as they participate in school parades, eyes often downcast if gory costumes are allowed.

And they ask why so many are so excited to celebrate things we are told to fight against: murder, death and gore.

And I have no answer.

And not everyone celebrates in this way.

It’s hard to put experiences of these kids into words if you don’t know anyone who feels this way. Who sees the world with a sensory eye. Who thinks in color, in images, often with a constant video stream running through the mind. For many visual people, excessive imagery and sounds really can be too much to bear.

Couple this with a gap between IQ and EQ (that’s our emotional age, per se), and this time of year easily overloads.

Don’t get me wrong, some kids want to participate. Some want to dress up. In fact, it’s one time of year kids with Asperger’s can dress as their Special Interest without being ridiculed. They can enjoy being who they want to be for a day without being picked on. Maybe. And most want the gobs of candy, processed with dye# who-knows-what.

Yes, this is a rant, but it’s a rant with a point. A rant from a mom who has seen all too many Octobers end in sweat and tears from a young girl, counting down the hours for the images, sounds and textures to be put away for another year.

I’m not asking it be stopped. I’m asking for some to consider looking at it through someone else’s eyes.

Rather, if a kid stops by Monday evening, and seems overwhelmed, please, be sensitive. Not all kids like a plastic severed hand in the candy dish. Don’t make them go through sensory hoops just to get a sweet. Hand it to them with a real hand.

Smile at them, and compliment them on their costumes. Even if they don’t smile back. It just might give them the juice to knock on the door of the next house before they turn in for the night.
If you would like more information regarding Sensory Processing Disorder, the Sensory Processing Foundation is a terrific resource. If you are looking to connect with other parents, as well as search out advice for handling times such as sensory laden holidays, the SPD Blogger Network is another great resource. (And they have a pretty cool purple octopus to greet you, too!)


  1. shopping for clothes and shoes plus aspergers is at the top of my list, where the stimulus of bright lights, tight scratchy clothes, and panic attacks make it a traumatic experience for both the child/teen and parent. thank you for verbalizing this.

  2. That was well said. My son had his "all done" face on about half way through the trick or treating. The only thing that got him through was the hope of more candy at the next house. Now we are dealing with melt downs because he wants candy morning, noon and night. I might be rethinking Halloween next year.