5 Ways Halloween Looks Different When Your Child Has Special Needs
Halloween is a big evening for kids! Dark nights, spooky stories, scary masks, sugar rushes, strangers, and a ton of screaming!
But if your child has any sort of special need, some of these fun activities can become truly scary.
- What if you’re the mom of a kindergartner with food allergies?
- Or an elementary-schooler with sensory processing disorder, who can’t handle loud noises and scratchy costumes?
- What if your energetic 8-year-old with Autism doesn’t enjoy being around scary masks and strangers?
Halloween can be a fully inclusive holiday, and your little one can share a million fun memories on this night. But it’s important for all families to remember that not every child partakes in the same way. So in that spirit, let’s shed a light on five ways Halloween may look a little different for a child with special needs – and how we can all work to be inclusive.
1. IT’S A TEAL PUMPKIN HUNT!
If a family’s child has food allergies, Halloween can be really frightening. No ghost or goblin is scarier than finding nuts in your allergic child’s candy basket. So when you’re stocking up your candy bowl, try to make sure you get allergen-free food (or at least have a small allergen-free bowl on the side). Then, let those families know you’re serving up safe treats this year by painting a Teal Pumpkin and setting it on your porch! You’ll be some kid’s hero – and you won’t even need a mask!
2. WE CAN’T ALWAYS WAIT UNTIL DARK
A child with Autism, Down’s Syndrome, or Sensory Processing Disorder may not be able to handle the screaming kids, shadowy streets, and spooky masks. Please understand if our family comes around very early in the day – maybe 3 or 4pm, just out of school. We’re not trying to be rude or invasive; we just need to be out while there’s still peace, quiet, and the safety of daylight. Please be just as cheerful in greeting our children, complimenting our costumes, and wishing us a Happy Halloween!
3. WE MAY NOT HAVE A TRADITIONAL COSTUME
Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), in particular, can impact the way our kids handle tactile sensations, loud noises, and cramped spaces. Therefore, a hot rubber mask, scratchy fairy costume, or spiky crown may not work as well for our kids. Look for soft, pajama-like outfits. I’ve once seen a child with SPD wear black sweatpants and black sweatshirt, with glow-in-the-dark stars glued to it. “I’m the Universe!” he exclaimed, sharing his passion for science. That comfortable outfit was the pride of his Halloween, and you know what? I still remember it today.
4. WE MAY BE NON-VERBAL OR VERY SHY
Children with Down’s Syndrome or Autism may be nonverbal. In fact, the |National Autism Association has created adorable, pre-decorated Halloween cards for children to hand out to houses they visit. They say things like, “Trick or Treat! My little pumpkin has autism and cannot speak yet. Please accept this as a thank you for being so sweet!” However, if a child approaches your door and does not say “Trick or Treat” or “Thank You!” it is not indication of rudeness. Our kids simply haven’t found their voice yet, but they’re truly grateful for your help giving them a magical Halloween!
5. WE ENJOY STRUCTURED HALLOWEEN EVENTS
Please do try to include us! We learn and grow by being part of social events and interacting with other kids. Just please excuse us if we need a quiet space in the corner, away from loud music and chaotic games. Even better – plan some structured games for everyone! Most kids—not just kids with special needs--benefit from and enjoy structured games. Try Monster Freeze Dance, a Miniature-Pumpkin Hunt, or other Halloween-themed games or art projects. You can find a ton of them online!
IF WE WORK TOGETHER, WE CAN CREATE AN INCLUSIVE HALLOWEEN!
It takes a village to raise a child. But we hope these insights can help everyone understand the unique challenges families raising children with special needs face each Halloween. For every neighbor on the block with a teal pumpkin and an understanding smile when my child shows up without a costume at 3 in the afternoon – thank you for helping us celebrate a special Halloween.
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