Child on easter egg hunt.

Complete with Sensory-Friendly Egg Fillers!

It’s springtime, and usually (for many of us), that means prepping for Easter festivities. Every year, kids excitedly anticipate the Easter Bunny’s arrival and egg hunt gatherings. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, the Easter celebrations will be a little different, requiring more caution and creativity. Many of us have kids at home to keep busy and happy. Finding ways to celebrate—even in these unique circumstances—is an important way to switch up the monotony of staying inside by creating something to look forward to. 

For children with developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), holidays such as this are already a little different. While there’s still excitement in the air, kids on the spectrum have a difficult time with unknown happenings and unfamiliar experiences. Seemingly simple activities such as an Easter egg hunt could be overwhelming to someone with ASD. But with a little insight and conscious adjustment, you can achieve a successful, autism-friendly Easter egg hunt that includes everyone in the fun (from a safe distance, of course).

Ensure a Safe Environment

Safety comes first, so your first step to planning an inclusive Easter party is to select a safe location for the event. A calm, open outdoor area away from busy streets, loud noises, and bright lights is best. At this point in time, we are advised to avoid gatherings of people, besides those with close family. This means that your Easter festivities will likely take place in your home, backyard, or a near-empty park (avoiding playgrounds and picnic tables), with only your immediate family.

To keep typical Easter egg hunts autism-friendly, it’s best to keep attendance numbers low, anyway, splitting children into smaller groups, if needed. This helps ensure safety, so that adults can keep a closer eye on the kids. It also will help children avoid sensory overload from involving too many people.

Help Children Know What to Expect

A big stressor for children with ASD is not knowing what to expect out of an event. Take the time to really set up clear expectations and explanations for the Easter egg hunt. Appeal to the need for visual aids by showing children pictures of what their experience might be like—a child searching for eggs, finding an egg, putting it in a basket, or asking for help if they need it. If the location is unfamiliar, show pictures of that, too.

If your Easter celebration includes more than just an egg hunt, create a schedule with words and pictures to convey to children the sequence of events. Research shows that this helps to reduce “transition time and melt downs.” Allow children to mark when an activity is finished, by crossing it off or checking a box. Include details to help them prepare, such as whether the activity will be indoors or outdoors, who will be there, and any other sensory sensitivities unique to your kids.

Social stories are extremely helpful to children with autism preparing for new situations. Find or create a story (written or video) about a child participating in an Easter egg hunt. Include obvious details—such as finding eggs and enjoying prizes—as well as less-obvious aspects of the experience—like being courteous to others, keeping within the limit of eggs gathered, and asking an adult for help.

If you do choose to go somewhere other than your home or backyard for your egg hunt, it may benefit your child to practice beforehand in a familiar place. Perhaps you could scatter empty eggs in your backyard to have a “trial run” hunt before the real deal. This will help them feel more comfortable with the new activity and less anxious about it when the big day comes.

Prepare for Unique Needs and Sensitivities

Before the hunt begins, have a plan in place for your children to gather their share of eggs. Specify a number of eggs each child is permitted to gather. You could give each child a specific color of egg to look for. Alternatively, you could mark eggs with various numbers or symbols, and assign each child a symbol marking to look for. Whatever your approach, try to make sure each child is allotted the same number of eggs in the end. This will help them to enjoy the experience at their own pace, instead of feeling rushed or competitive to find more eggs than their siblings or peers.

Make sure the kids are dressed comfortably, and have any accessories on hand that may be needed throughout the day—such as a hat and sunglasses in case of particularly sunny weather, or earplugs in case noises become overwhelming.

Provide a way out if your child needs it. Create a space for them to take a break—like a comfortable tent with blankets and pillows or a quiet indoor space with low sensory stimulation. It’s also okay to allow a child to stop participating altogether if they insist that they don’t want to anymore.

Be sure the eggs are hidden in places that can reasonably be found by those participating. Eggs hidden completely out of sight or that require lots of reaching, climbing, or uncovering to find are probably not the best idea to keep the activity inclusive of all abilities.

With the limited social activity at this time, lots of communities are finding creative ways they can still participate in Easter activities together. For example, several neighborhoods are inviting families to color and decorate large paper Easter eggs to adorn their windows and doors. Then families go out on walks together (taking care to maintain distance from other families) and complete a scavenger hunt for all the neighborhood Easter eggs.

One family hid plastic eggs in their front yard for neighbors to search for from their parked cars. A young girl compiled DIY rock painting kits (while using gloves and Lysol) and placed them in her front yard for neighbors to grab and take home. Many neighborhoods are also completing chalk art or other window art work for people to admire as they walk by.

Whatever you do, keep in mind the recommendations to keep at least 10 feet away from others, wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face. Even though we must keep a physical distance from one another, we can still find ways to maintain a close community feeling with others.

Sensory-Friendly Easter Egg Filler Ideas

Children on the autism spectrum often have allergies, sensitivities, or negative reactions to the dyes, sugar, and other ingredients in the candy that typically fills Easter eggs. Instead, consider using these non-food, sensory-friendly items to hide in Easter eggs. This will benefit not only kids with autism, but any child, as holidays often become too focused on sugary foods (plus, current grocery store shortages may make some sweets difficult to find). The kids at your egg hunt will love these fun toys (and they’ll last a lot longer than candy, too!).

  • Bouncy balls
  • Fidget spinners or cubes
  • Light up balls
  • Play-doh
  • Bracelets & necklaces
  • Finger puppets
  • Chapstick or lip gloss
  • Stickers or temporary tattoos
  • Egg shakers
  • Kazoos, whistles, or noise makers
  • Silly putty
  • Sticky hands
  • Mini slinkies
  • Curly shoelaces
  • Sponge capsule animals
  • …And the list goes on!

If you want to add other inclusive, sensory activities to your Easter celebration, you might consider some of these ideas:

  • Textured crayon rubbings
  • Play “What’s in the bag/balloon?”
  • Fill a sensory bin with toys and rice, cereal, sand, pom-poms, or water
  • Make flubber for kids to take home
  • Create fizzy lemon suds
  • Go on a sound scavenger hunt walk
  • Make rainbow soap foam

Including Everyone in the Easter Fun

With the right knowledge and preparation, your Easter festivities this year will help all your kids feel included and stay safe and healthy. Just a little bit of planning can go a long way to make kids of all ages, needs, and abilities feel comfortable and enjoy the fun.

Your child deserves the best, and that includes learning and treatment in a safe environment from professionals who understand their needs. At the Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning, we offer exceptional programs for toddlers through teens with autism.

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