Halloween is a holiday that most children LOVE.
Fun Decorations of Ghosts, Goblins, Witches, Graves, and Monsters
Horror Movies, Haunted Houses, Haunted Hay Rides, and Trips to the Pumpkin Patch fill families Itineraries.
However, for some children, Halloween is a complicated day that can be confusing, overwhelming, scary, and frustrating. As parents, we want to help our children feel included in holidays, but sometimes we need to rely on others to help our children make the most of their time. Children with special needs can struggle to find ways to make the most of Halloween. This Halloween, we are asking all families, whether they have a child with special needs or not, that they consider a few things as they prepare for the influx of visitors to their front doors.
Not All Children Can Talk
Some children coming to your door will be non-verbal, minimally verbal, and will have selective mutism. Children with developmental delays, speech disorders, and Autism all can be challenged to speak. Children that have trouble communicating may not feel comfortable answering questions of strangers, saying “Trick or Treat,” or responding to questions about their costumes. Please be mindful that verbal communication is not easy for all children. Some children don’t respond because they can’t answer, and it is not because they are rude or ungrateful.
Some Children Will Be Overwhelmed By Your Decorations
Many families go all out and decorate for Halloween. They cover their houses in Spiders, Cobwebs, ghosts, and stick graves in their yards. Sidewalks are paved with candles, and some homes have fog machines set the mood for the trick or treaters. Other adults will dress in character, and they will jump out as children arrive to scare them. Many children will love these personal and fun touches. However, some will be terrified by these decorations. Children with sensory processing disorder or Autism will have a difficult time making sense of all the stimuli in the decorations. The noise machines may be too loud for their ears. Fog machines may burn their eyes. Strangers jumping out from the shadows may terrify and confuse them as they are unable to process that it is not real. This confusion can lead to behaviors that may seem perplexing. Children may scream, cry, and some may get violent. Please be mindful that while decorations can be a fun way to decorate your house they can also be terrifying for some children.
Not All Children Eat By Mouth
Halloween is all about candy for most children. It’s the one time of year they get an endless supply of sugar and treats. Most of us stock up on sugary treats to hand out to all the children that knock on our doors. However, some children have feeding disorders or medical conditions that prevent them from eating by mouth. Children with Feeding Tubes often feel conflicted by this day. Many love to dress up, but most can’t or won’t eat the treats that are handed out. Make sure to have some non-food items to hand out to families with tube fed children. Easy and inexpensive items can be purchased at the dollar store. Things like stickers, play-doh, pencils, fidgets, slinkies, rubber balls, small figure toys like insects, dinosaurs or animals are all great options.
Have Treat Options for Children with Food Allergies and Dietary Restrictions
Some children that come to your door will have food allergies that will make some candy off limits. Children with nut allergies will not be able to have any treats you provide that have nuts in them, and some won’t be able to take any treats from you if you are offering any products with nuts. Make sure you keep a separate bowl of candy or treats that are nut and allergen free. Other children have serious dairy allergies. Candy that is dairy and nut free is an excellent option to have for both of these kids. Then another subset of children shouldn’t have sugar at all. For them, you can offer salty treats, or give them an option to take one of your non-treat items that you have on hand. Make sure you ask children and their parents if they have any allergies or food restrictions before handing them food. Families that deal with these issues will appreciate your inclusion and kindness.
Some Children Are not Mobile or have Physical limitations
Another group of children that are either immobile or have physical limitations that will make it difficult to get up your stairs. They may have their parents knock on our door for treats. If you don’t have stairs, they may not be able to get close enough to your door so that you can open it. For these families, make sure you can meet them outside your home. Children in wheelchairs often love to feel connected and included, bring the candy or non-food gifts directly to them. Don’t be afraid to engage with these kids. They will be so grateful you took the extra few steps to interact with them.
Some Children will Travel with Equipment
Medically fragile children often can’t leave the house without medical equipment. You may see kids come to your door attached to portable oxygen tanks, IV poles that have tubes and bags hanging, or they may be confined to a wheelchair. Of course, it’s not a typical occurrence to see children like this, make sure not to stare, ask questions or freeze when they approach. These children are still just as innocent and excited as all the other kids that have come to your house. Smile and give them a treat or a non-food toy. They will appreciate your ability to include them and not make them feel awkward.
Children with Special Needs are still children. Many of them want to feel included and enjoy the magical and spooky time of Halloween. By preparing for unique visitors, you are helping to ensure that all children feel included. It will take some extra planning and preparation, but it will make a massive difference to these kids and their families. As parents, most of us want our kids to have memories of these times that are positive, and you can be a part of those memories by ensuring they feel included and understood.