Halloween is fun for children with and without disabilities. My friends never treated me differently, and helped me work around areas that weren’t accessible. If there was a car blocking the walkway to the front door, I’d wait on the sidewalk where the owner of the house could see me. I’d sit patiently, a smile blooming across my face, as my brother approached the front door and rang the doorbell. Whenever the door opened, my brother would point in my direction and mouth something that I couldn’t hear. Then he’d mosey down the driveway, the adults following just behind. I would tell them “Trick-or-Treat!” and they’d drop a few pieces of candy in my bag.
Regardless of their disabilities, we want our children to enjoy this holiday as much as possible. Unlike my experiences, many children have sensory sensitivity, especially those with autism or other types of cognitive disabilities. To make sure that these trick-or-treaters feel as comfortable and safe as possible, it can be helpful to slowly introduce them to Halloween-themed decorations and costumes. And just in case you need a few pointers, here are some tips to help you get ready for the spookiest day of the year.
If your child has sensory aversions, try to be as careful as possible, and mindful of any triggers that they might have. Here is some advice for teaching them in a patient, accepting, and safe environment.
- Spiderwebs, ghouls, and shrieking goblins: As decorations begin popping up around town and in school, telling stories from your own childhood may help to alleviate some tension. Make sure not to expose your child too quickly, or to too many of these at once, since that could result in something like sensory overload. It may not seem like it, but be mindful that this can actually be painful for autistic people.
- Superman, monsters, witches: By visiting stores with costumes on display, by browsing catalogs filled with Halloween characters, or by playing dress-up at home, you can learn about your child’s preferences, what they like, what makes them uncomfortable, and how to help them navigate that space. It might help to explain that costumes are made up of clothing and props, and that they don’t involve magic or don’t have to be scary.
- Masks: Halloween masks can also make children uncomfortable. If your child feels uncomfortable either wearing a mask, or being around people who are wearing them, they might be afraid because they no longer recognize their family and friends. As you can imagine, this can be not only terrifying, but also disorienting. Try to look for masks that your child is comfortable wearing. You can even have him/her test out their mask and costume by looking at themselves in a mirror, and by making sure that they know you’re there. For some children, a simple game of peek-a-boo with a mask can also help them feel more comfortable. If your kid enjoys art, helping them to create their own masks can also help.
- Finding an accessible Halloween costume: If you’re searching for an accessible costume for your little trick-or-treater, it’s important to pay attention to any sensory aversions that they have, as well as any adaptive equipment that they use. There are actually some great accessible costume lines, some of which even transform wheelchairs into fantastic props, such as a spaceship or a car. Other costumes have pockets or cutouts that will still allow you to access feeding tubes and other equipment. These designs are also tag-free, and made from materials that are less abrasive to children with sensory sensitivities. Target and Disney even offer accessible costumes that feature popular characters, such as Disney princesses and characters from their popular movie “The Incredibles.”
1. Is It OK To Avoid Crowds? – Of course! Crowds aren’t everybody’s favorite or ideal situation, and may be especially triggering for people with disabilities. For kids with a variety of disabilities, crowds can be loud and overwhelming. Noisy, unfamiliar events can be overstimulating for autistic children, which can be extremely painful, uncomfortable, and impossible for them to endure. To help your child have a great time, in a way that accommodates their needs, here are a few ideas:
Instead of participating in trick-or-treating areas that have a lot of traffic, it may help to travel to areas that aren’t as busy. If your child and their friends would be open to starting earlier, this may cut down on the amount of traffic that you’ll have.
Search for Sensory Friendly events, either online or through friends and other parents. If you don’t have any near you, maybe you and some other parents could even start your own!
You can avoid the crowds by staying home, watching fun Halloween movies, and even making your own, Halloween themed desserts.
It’s also an option to allow your child to give out candy from home. That way, they can experience the holiday at their own pace, and might help to familiarize them with Halloween from a distance, in an environment that is already comfortable.
2. The Perfect Amount of Time – Too many events, or events that are too long, might be incredibly overwhelming for some children with disabilities. What are some ways you can enjoy the holiday, that aren’t over-stimulating?
Haunted houses can be a lot for anybody, but can be especially stressful for people with disabilities. Some more accessible options can include less-stimulating activities like corn mazes, hayrides, or even a trip to a Halloween store. And if possible, as mentioned in our other examples, to avoid crowds, plan to go during a time that is less busy.
Depending on the type of event, you may want to ask some questions before RSVPing “Yes” to a Halloween party or event. You can ask about the number of guests, whether music will be played, or even about things like strobing lights.
3. Be Patient With Your Child And Yourself – Sometimes special needs children won’t enjoy dressing up and participating in the event you have planned. Be patient and come up with alternative costume options or start new traditions that are more comfortable for your child.
As much as you want them be actively involved, remember that Halloween might just be too much. Keep your child comfortable by allowing them to have a voice and tell you what they like or don’t like.
Try to find good ways to connect with your child. If something about the event might spark some interest for a short amount of time, it might be easier for you to enjoy the event with them.
It doesn’t all have to go as planned or the way you imagined. Having a special needs child doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy Halloween, you just have to come up with different ways to enjoy it with your child in a way that is comfortable.
4. Mapping Out a Trick-Or-Treating Plan
Role-play- Acting things out can help your child prepare for Trick-Or-Treating, may even be fun in the process. By using a door in your house, you can practice things like how to knock on a door or ring a doorbell, what to say when a door is opened, how to thank the person, as well as the correct time to say goodbye and leave.
Discuss the language your child may encounter- Since we don't go around yelling “Trick-Or-Treat!” during any other time of the year, talking about it could help them adjust to this new phrase. After all, people only Trick-Or-Treat on Halloween, so it might help to point that out to your child.
Create an itinerary beforehand- Some children, especially those on the spectrum, feel much more comfortable when they have a schedule to follow. If they aren’t keen on Trick-Or-Treating planning to go out for a few minutes, just to visit a few places, could be a great place to start.
Do a walk-through of the neighborhood ahead of time- This part can also be fun, and can give your child a sense of security and control. By choosing which houses you’ll visit, it may alleviate any uncertainty or anxiety that your child is feeling. It could also help to speak with your neighbors before visiting their houses. If they don’t know about your child’s disability, this may offer a great opportunity to speak with them about it.
These tips are a great starting place for any parent, who has a child or children with disabilities. Hopefully, they help you to have a more inclusive holiday that your child will love.
SYNERGY HomeCare from a blog post written in 2018
Mary Carol Peterson
Editing & Production