Halloween’s Sensory Activities

Traditionally, Halloween can stir people’s thoughts to spooky ghosts, pumpkins, witches, and of quite naturally, candy. For most of us, all of these things come in stride every October 31st, and they come and go like our costumes. For children with Prader-Willi Syndrome, however, Halloween’s primary focus is, generally, the high calorie sweets. For most of our kids at Latham Centers, the holiday can conjure up nostalgic memories of the past: chocolate for the taking at the local mall, candy corn in their public schools, or rummaging through a sibling’s bag of treats. Even in a residential home, the concept of Trick-or-Treat, eternally present on every television station and in most aspects of community, acts as a constant reminder of all the sweets they can’t have. It is, quite frankly, a stressful holiday.

For the children with PWS at Latham, it has been deemed a “cheat day,” in which the children can Trick-or-Treat on the Latham campus from classroom to classroom, from one residential group to another, and finally into the offices of the administration. The amount of candy is the same for each student, as is the type of candy. Because of  much slower caloric digestion among those with PWS, the amount of candy the students receive appears minimal when compared to memories of overflowing pillowcases. So how do we minimize all the Halloween stress?

One answer is a rich sensory diet. Engaging the children in activities such as finger painting and modeling clay can stimulate areas of the brain that strengthen coordination, reduce stress, and develop agility. Girls with PWS in the North Wing decorated their suite by finger-painting Halloween related pictures, and some attempted to sculpt representations of pumpkins with air-dry clay. After pumpkin picking one Saturday, the girls hollowed out the gooey, stringy fibers from the pumpkins with their bare hands. They appeared careful to organize the seeds from the “pumpkin guts,” and expressed excitement over the thought of having them cooked as a replacement for their snack. Overall, for the ladies with PWS, this incorporation of sensory activity into a Halloween-related residential curriculum seemed to help combat the stress of pining for sweets.

John Bonanni
ADL Counselor

“Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must.” 
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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