Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween: A Sensory Delight, or a Sensory Nightmare?

I love holidays because they always offer an opportunity to share new experiences with little kids.   Of course, different kids react differently to being exposed to new things, and Aias is one of those kids that approaches new things with suspicion and caution.  Last year he really loved Halloween, Christmas, and Easter because what's not to love... treats, presents, family, etc.  Awesome stuff.  Of course, there were also lots of things that were a little unnerving for him at first, and also quite a few things that remain unnerving.

Aias has some anxiety around touching new textures, be it in form of a food, a piece of clothing, or just an object.  Year round, he often finds it unbearable to try on new shoes or clothing because of how the fabric feels to him; some fabrics feel like they are "too tight" on him or like they are "burning" his skin.  It's hard for us to understand because we don't share the same anxieties.  When I say he finds it unbearable, I don't mean he "whines" or "tantrums" about it because he's having some sort of toddler control issue. What I mean is, he actually has a total panic attack about the items based on how they feel.  He hyperventilates, sobs, shakes, and won't even remove the item himself because he is so terrified of touching it.  It probably sounds totally strange to someone who doesn't have a kid that acts like this, and we thought so too at first.  While we still find it a little unusual, we are finally starting to understand that he's like this and are working toward making it better.

Halloween poses a few problematic issues for Aias.  Here are a few and how we've had to deal with them.

Costumes:  Lots of kids don't want to wear their Halloween costume because they just don't feel like it, or they don't want to wear a hat, or they are scared of being something else.  Sometimes they don't want to wear it simply because it isn't what they are used to.  In Aias's case, Halloween costumes are terrifying because he doesn't want to touch the unusual fabrics.  This year we had 2 costumes my mom sent us last year and we were hoping Aias would wear one of them.  One was an astronaut costume (a full, one piece cotton suit with a hat) and the second was a Frankenstein's Monster costume (hat, puffy top, fabric pants).

Aias liked both costumes in theory, and liked the idea of being a monster or an astronaut.  However, both costumes were very different from normal clothes Aias wears.  The astronaut costume covers the whole body head to toe and is a thinner, rougher fabric than normal clothes. There's also a hat in a different style than what he's comfortable with.  I tried this costume first, and Aias was terrified. He said he was going to be "stuck" in the suit. The Frankenstein's Monster costume I tried next, but I should have known better, because the stiffened felt and stuffed plush parts of the outfit, combined with the stiff cotton, caused an absolute panic attack in Aias.

I had to ask myself at this point, who are these costumes for: us, or Aias.  Was it really worth having him wear a costume if it wasn't any fun for him at all? In fact, not only just "not fun," but cause of actual emotional distress?

Thank goodness And Mommy Makes 3 had given us a pair of glow in the dark skeleton pajamas from Old Navy; they were in the same style and felt the same as the pjs Aias happily wears every night, so the "worst case scenario" would be that he would wear those, even though they wouldn't be warm enough so they'd effectively be hidden under a coat. 

I decided to give it one more try and I took him to Old Navy to look at the costumes there because he's worn an Old Navy costume for the past few years. The good thing about those costumes is that they are the same quality as regular clothes (so they feel like regular clothes) and they are made of fleece, which is a fabric that doesn't panic him.  We stood in the costume aisle and looked at the much-picked-over costumes.  He could choose between a monkey, a tiger, a hamburger, a butterfly, a cupcake, and a strawberry; all costumes they had in his size.  We talked about the costumes, and why each one would or wouldn't work. The monkey and tiger costumes had puffy feet on the bottom and plush inside them, and this bothered him a lot.  The strawberry costume had plush in it.  The hamburger costume had plush in it.  The butterfly and cupcake he both wanted, but in the end, he decided the butterfly wouldn't work because he didn't want to wear the antennae and he didn't like the tiny pieces of tulle on the shoulders.  The cupcake won, although he said he was NOT going to wear the hat.

On Saturday Aias wore the cupcake outfit quite willingly to a Halloween event, and today for trick-or-treating at the mall, he decided he would wear the skeleton pjs.  

Pumpkins:  Growing up, I always loved the whole pumpkin carving thing, but I was appalled with the gooey inside of the pumpkin and the smell of it. I would leave the room while my mom scooped the guts out. I'd then be able to draw the face on the pumpkin and let my mom cut it up.

It's no wonder Aias has all these sensory issues, I clearly have a few of my own. I quite honestly would not even consider touching the inside of a pumpkin (or even being in the room while someone else did) until Aias was born.  I decided I was NOT going to create weirdness for him around pumpkin carving (although a lot of good that did in the end).  I decided I was going to conquer the pumpkin carving.  For Aias's first Halloween, I cut, scooped, and carved my first pumpkin EVER in my whole life.   Of course, I sort of cheated and did it with rubber gloves on.

This year was the first year Aias really took part in it, and of course (as I suspected), he wouldn't go near the pumpkin goo because it was "slippery and messy" and he didn't want to touch "the strings."  He also didn't want to touch the rubber gloves because they felt "too tight."    We solved this by letting him draw on the pumpkins and also just leaving the option open to play with the insides and seeds.  He opted out, as I suspected, but we didn't make any big deal of it.

It is sort of sad to me, that things like costumes and pumpkin carving, which are really exciting new experiences for so many kids, are just disturbing to Aias.  I hope that in time we will be able to work with him so he's able to enjoy these things instead of finding them stressful.  I work with kids in my home and I see first hand how much the other kids enjoy things like dressing up, costumes, wearing the rubber gloves, scooping out the pumpkin guts, handling the seeds, etc.  It's very strange for me to see kids react to that stuff with excitement instead of with apprehension, but hopefully in time, Aias will be able to be the same. And if he can't be the same, at least we can strive to find ways that he can enjoy the fun things about the holidays with modifications that can make it a great experience for him. 

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1 comment:

I've adopted the same commenting policy as seen here at Off Beat Mama ( I won't post comments if they strike me as attacking, judgmental, rude, or unproductive. In general if you are willing to put your name to something, I'll post it, but remember to keep your words sweet, because someday you may have to eat them.