Difficulty with facial recognition. Friends and family in costumes mean familiar people have suddenly become unrecognizable. Masks, wigs, and costumes can cause children to miss those reliable features that support visual recognition.
Difficulty with visual recognition of new objects and environments. Navigating new walkways, front stops, or porches can be near impossible while trick or treating. A familiar classroom or hallway in school might be unrecognizable with Halloween decorations.
Visual clutter and busy, noisy environments. Halloween parties, excited and loud friends, new sounds and crowds while trick or treating can negatively affect the ability to use vision.
Difficulty with new sensory input from wearing costumes. Unfamiliar tactile input from costumes can be another form of sensory complexity—a new type of material, masks, bulky suits, or face paint.
Difficulty with the visual guidance of upper and lower limbs. Candy exchange during trick or treating is a difficult visual motor task for many children with CVI. Let’s break it down. While in a new environment (with new sounds, new people, and visual clutter), it can be hard to look and reach simultaneously into a bowl with lots of candy (more visual clutter) and then grasp an item of choice. Once the candy is in hand, it can be hard to visually attend to the trick-or-treat bag/bucket and place it inside. When visiting houses for trick or treating, unfamiliar walkways, front porches, and steps can make it difficult or near impossible to visually guide feet and legs. Many kids will rely on an adult and their compensatory skills for support.
Visual and physical fatigue. The newness of Halloween, the different routines, and the complexity of the experience can cause visual and physical fatigue.
What are some ways to make Halloween more accessible and fun for children with CVI?
Let’s first consider what aspects of Halloween might already be helpful for kids with CVI.
The color palette of Halloween includes highly saturated colors—orange, green, purple—and, of course, a black background.
Halloween objects and decorations can provide an accessible multisensory experience (auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, visual). Pumpkins are great 3D objects to explore, paint, carve and light up.
Treats and sweets can be huge motivators. And we know how important motivation is for kids with CVI to use their skills and try new experiences.
Six ideas to address the difficult parts of Halloween
Trick or treat early in the day to avoid loud and noisy situations, and even work around that late-in-the-day fatigue that can set in for your child with CVI. Visit just a few neighbors or go to a familiar house of a friend or family member. One CVI parent shared that her family goes trick-or-treating at the Zoo during the daytime. Maybe this is an option in your area!
Do a candy scavengery hunt in your home if you want to avoid trick or treating altogether. Favorite foods and treats can be super motivating to work on skills. Place candy in familiar spots in your house (on the bed, a favorite chair, on top of the washer). Use descriptive language to support your child as they locate the candy. If needed, use a flashlight to add light to support visual attention. For children with CVI who are able to recognize 2D, show a photograph of the candy and ask them to find it. Or show a picture of the location where the candy is hiding, and then have your child navigate to that location in the house.
The candy bag/bucket is an excellent opportunity to use color and light as supports for visual attention and visual motor skills. Choose a bag that is a preferred color or a highly saturated color. If light is still a needed support for your child, velcro an LED light at the bottom of the candy bucket. This may help your child look (when they want to) while dropping the candy in the bucket.
Ask friends and family to introduce themselves when they are in their costumes. Your child may recognize the familiar voice. Verbally describe the costumes of each person.
Costumes are another opportunity to leverage your child’s interests. Help your child choose a costume of a character or item they are very familiar with. For example, one CVI parent chose a shark costume because her son loved the song, “Baby Shark.”
Choose clothing that your child will tolerate. You know your child best. If they only love wearing sweatsuits, then a successful costume will have a sweatsuit as its base. A CVI parent mentioned that she has a backup costume just in case the first option doesn’t work out. We always have to be prepared for anything when it comes to our kids with CVI.