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Tips before the Halloween treats

Last Modified: 10/05/2018

It’s October, and that means Halloween is right around the corner. While most families and children are buying or making costumes, decorating their homes, carving pumpkins, and all the other fun Halloween and fall activities, some families have a lot more to consider. Jalyssa Kessler, BA, CCLS, CPST, certified child life specialist, explains some of the unique challenges that arise this time of year.

Have you ever considered what Halloween is like for a child and/or family with special needs? Halloween, like many days, can be a difficult and challenging holiday for these kiddos, their siblings, and their parents. Here are a few pointers for navigating October 31 with these children in mind.

Tips for parents of special needs kids
  1. Carefully consider and choose a costume. Sensory issues are a big thing and many costumes have itchy fabric, multiple layers, masks/facial coverings, etc. Be sure to consider what things your child doesn’t like, so they can have a good time in their costume.
  2. Discuss the day’s events with your child. They typically like schedules and to know what to expect. Include them in the planning of the day.
  3. Practice your expectations ahead of time. For example, practice saying trick-or-treat and thank you so your child knows what to do when it’s time to go around the neighborhood.
When you meet a special needs child trick-or-treating
  1. Keep in mind that you may not always be able to tell a child has special needs.
  2. Remember, often times special needs kids have difficulties with social skills. Many parents practice what they want the child to do or say. If you ask them something they weren’t expecting don’t assume they are being rude, they may just not fully understand.
  3. Parents may make comments or cues. Watch for them and go along with whatever the parent is doing. Parents greatly appreciate when people are understanding of their child.
  4. Be patient. Exhibiting patience with the child and his/her parents will mean more than you may know. Being a parent/family of a special needs child is a challenging task and often parents need us to have just as much patience with them.
  5. Talk to the child just like you would any other child. Praise him/her for following directions, having good manners, etc.
  6. Scary and spooky decorations can be very scary for these kids, especially those with sensory struggles. Maybe consider not having these decorations “on” during trick or treating. Even kids without special needs could be scared, keep Halloween fun for everyone.
  7. Those of you trick-or-treating with kids, explain to them ahead of time that they may see these kids. While seeing special needs kids isn’t uncommon anytime in public, this is a great time to re-visit or have this discussion with your children. Most families are used to the comments that are often made, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could be one less comment they have to hear as they enjoy this day with their child?
General Halloween tips
  1. Consider having a non-food option to hand out. There are so many food allergies today that it’s a good idea to have an option for those that have to be careful, as well as those that don’t eat candy. Kids like to trick-or-treat, they like to dress up and have fun, that doesn’t mean they necessarily all like or can have candy.
  2. Choose costumes that can be seen in the dark. There are lots of pedestrians and a lot of vehicles, make sure your child can be seen.
  3. Always use the buddy system. Make sure younger kids are with an adult and older kids are with a buddy.
  4. Teach children to walk on sidewalks or paths and to watch for vehicles when crossing the street.
  5. Inspect candy before allowing your child to eat it. Anything that looks like it may have been tampered with should be thrown away. Also, don’t keep homemade items, unless it’s from grandma of course.


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