Halloween is a fun time for children. There are usually the normal fears that babies have their first time trick or treating outside at night in the dark, but they quickly learn the tradition as well as what is expected of them.
Special needs children do not have that advantage. Picking up on social cues is difficult for them, in other words, watching the actions of the people around them and what they mean. This would be observing the ritual of trick or treating as ringing the bell of a house dressed up in costume, extending your bag and saying "trick or treat." Also, some special needs children are non-verbal or limited in their expressive and receptive language, so this makes it hard for them to participate as well. Finally, there are the sensory aspects of the trick or treating events which are happening at night, outside, where it is noisy and they have no control.
Any kind of unpredictability is hard on special needs children. It took my son a few years to get the idea of trick or treating, but now he is regular participant and counts down to Halloween as any child would! Is your special needs child still struggling to fit in on Halloween, or do you know of a child with special needs who is? If so, I found that the following five tips really helped our family explain Halloween so everyone would have a great time!
1) Look for an indoor trick-or-treating event for beginner trick-or-treaters: If they are very small this works best as the first trick or treating venue. There are many shopping centers around that offer indoor trick or treating at each store from 2 to 6 p.m. When Halloween is on a weekend, this works even better. This way at least your child is inside without the unpredictability of the weather and other elements.
2) Pick a costume based on their sensory preferences: For example, for the sensory-sensitive child, don't put him or her in a dinosaur costume or a superhero costume that is heavy and would be a stressful experience for them. For those children, start with a cowboy or doctor costume, as those involve minimal layers of clothing and are light on the body. For those kids who need weight, by all means go for the animal costumes, ghost costumes and same with face makeup. Some like it, some are allergic etc. Make sure your child picks the costume or you pick one which they are comfortable in. It is supposed to be a positive experience for them and you so go with what works for both of you.
3) If you choose to go at night, start with a shorter time outside and gradually build up to longer trick-or-treating over the years: This works well if it is their first night time trick-or-treating. I did this and we only stayed an hour. It was perfect for my son, as in previous years he only did indoor trick or treating at the malls and at his adapted school.
4) Have a party at your house if school does not do an indoor trick or treating during the day: Some adapted schools and non-adapted schools will do a Halloween party with trick-or-treating in the daytime, but for those who don't, you can bring the party to your house. Invite a few close friends and have the children do their trick or treating in small quieter quarters with familiar faces all around.
5) Go through candy in bag at end of trick or treating and put some healthy treats inside or non-edible items like toys: This is a good idea for all children, but especially as many children on the spectrum have allergies and/or eat gluten-free. It's nice if they find some treats in their bag they can enjoy and stay healthy with. Also, little toys from the hobby store are good, or cute pencils, figurines. If you are having your own party at home and you know the children's allergies, opt for no food and little non-edible trinkets instead. The important thing is not to break the bank and for all the kids and adults, but mostly the kids, to have fun!
Halloween is a magical night for parents and their children. There is no reason why special needs children can't have as much fun as their neuro-typical peers. They may just need a few tweaks in the tradition to make it a happy event for them and their families. I hope these tips make your Halloween the great time it is meant to be. Wishing you and yours a very happy Halloween!
Halloween is a magical night for parents and their children. There is no reason why special needs children can't have as much fun as their neuro-typical peers. They may just need a few tweaks in the tradition to make it a happy event for them and their families.
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