Kids. Candy. Dressing up as your favourite character. There’s simply so much to love about Halloween. But for kids with disabilities, Halloween can pose some unique challenges.
My six-year-old daughter has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, which makes climbing the steps at each house impossible. Kids who are non-verbal can’t say “trick-or-treat” or “thank you.” For those who have sensory issues or severe anxiety, the unpredictability of the evening can take it’s toll. The list goes on.
It can feel daunting to figure out what to do to make sure kids of all abilities can enjoy the holiday. But there are a few easy things you can do to help make Halloween friendlier for kids of all abilities.
1. Take it down the stairs.
If your house has steps, set up a lawn chair at the bottom of the stairs (or in your garage if it’s cold!). That way kids who use wheelchairs or have a tough time with the stairs can still say trick or treat.
2. Consider non-edible treat options.
Some kids with special needs can’t eat by mouth and use feeding tubes. Others may have sensory issues with food or be on strictly controlled diets for health reasons. It is helpful to have a bucket of non-edible goodies for kids this. Bubbles, Playdoh, pencils, notepads and stamps are all inexpensive options that most kids would love!
If you’re feeling particularly festive, participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project to show that you have non-edible treats to give out.
3. Don’t insist kids say "trick-or-treat."
Some kids with disabilities can’t talk. Others, like my daughter, require an extra moment to process before they speak or respond. Instead of insisting that all kids say trick-or-treat and unintentionally singling out a child with challenges, just make a lovely comment about wonderful costumes.
4. Be patient.
I know it’s cold, or rainy or even snowy, but please be patient. Often my daughter will want to reach out to get the candy or say thank you, but it takes her an extra minute. A lot of kids with special needs need an extra moment or two to fully participate.
5. Say "hi" to the parents.
Warm, friendly neighbours automatically help create a feeling that we are part of communities that are welcoming and inclusive. A few friendly words can go a long way.
6. Don’t single out kids with disabilities.
You might admire a child who is struggling to walk up the stairs get to the top, but try not to single them out for this. It’s totally fine to tell them they did a great job, but be sure to say something about their costume, the loot they are collecting or anything that doesn’t have to do with their disability.
This one is easy. But a simple smile can go a long way to making anyone and everyone feel included. And if the parents look like they are having a tough time, a smile makes them realize that you get it and that they are part of a supportive community. That’s a feeling that lasts well past the one-day spooktacular event.