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Esther Leung
BY Esther Leung

Four Steps for Preparing Your Child for Costumes and the Holidays

The end of October is nearly here, which means autumn has really settled in. It also means that seasonal festivals, costumes, holiday parties, and school events are about to take over your calendar (if they haven’t already!)  For a child with special needs, this brings about more changes in the routines that you have been working hard to establish since school started.

School and community activities are a lot of fun. It can bring a lot of excitement, but potentially some anxiety for child and parents!  If you are planning to have your child participate in such activities, there are various things that you can do to help these experiences be as positive as possible.

1. Wardrobe

Certain holidays and themes may require your child to wear a costume or special outfit.

Consider sensory sensitivities

If your child has specific pieces of clothing that he or she will only wear, dress them according to the color theme of the event or holiday. Also, consider dressing them in layers with the clothing that is most comfortable underneath. Many stores also sell comfort clothing that has holiday themes printed on them.


Decorate your stroller, wheelchair or equipment to be inclusive of the theme instead of dressing your child.

Join the fun

You and family members can participate in the costumes and outfits as well. Be sure to show your child the transformation that you and your family members will be going through as well. Showing up unannounced in costume or special attire may be unsettling.

Gradual Exposure

Make sure to expose your child to special costumes a few times before the day they are expected to wear it. It may be a gradual process for them to accept wearing the outfit.

2. Rehearsal

For activities that only happen once a year, it would be helpful to prepare your child for what to expect. There are many ways this can be done.

Social Stories

Create a social story that details specifics about the event your child is participating in. Include pictures of the people, clothing, and environment related to the activity.


If possible, do a walkthrough a few times before the actual day of the event. You can take them to where the event may be taking place. You can also practice at home.


If your child has a favorite cartoon character, see if there are episodes about the holiday or special event that can help explain the activity.

3. Calendar Countdown

Be sure to use a visual calendar to show your child when a special event may be happening.

4. Environmental Planning

Special events and gatherings often mean more noise, people, and stimulation in general. Be sure to take this into consideration.

  • If possible, time your attendance to when crowds are least busy.
  • Know when and where you are going to arrive and exit the event.
  • Have headphones or baseball caps to help limit the noise and bright lights.
  • If needed, have a GPS or Bluetooth tracking device for large crowded areas. Or some way of identifying your child if you were to get separated.

At the end of the day, all of these holiday activities and special events are meant to be fun, not stressful.  Think about what is manageable for your child and your family. The level of participation your child has can vary – consider his or her readiness, as well as what is happening in your life.  You want it to be successful for all.

Esther Leung

Written on October 25, 2017 by:

Esther Leung is a special needs consultant who has worked with children, youth and families. She has 15 years of experience in a variety of settings including homes, childcare, schools and recreational settings. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and 2 young boys.