A couple of years ago I was coordinating a party for my child’s 4th grade classroom. Twenty percent of that classroom had food allergies. I gently reminded parents that the goal was for all our children to be included, safe and have fun. One parent refused to change the cookie decorating idea she had. “Kids who can’t make or eat them can at least enjoy them for how cute they are”. In what I believed was a teachable moment I reminded her that it still excluded them and also created a potentially dangerous situation. She quit the committee. I was horrified that another parent was willing to risk my son’s safety because she was so excited about her adorable witch hat cookie project.
Halloween is a holiday where those children with differences become the most exposed and have the potential to be the most left out. As a parent with kids with food issues, sensory differences, and autism, it took me many years to figure out ways how to adapt the most super-fun holiday so it was still fun. Turns out, there are lots of ways to do this both as parents and as supporters.
Here are some of the top ideas for the “BIG 3” to make Halloween still the coolest holiday ever
1. FOOD ALLERGIES:
a. PARENTS: Sort out the candy together so you can help teach him what is ok to eat. Have the “switch witch” visit later that night and exchange that bag of candy full of offending allergens with a present. Your child will be thrilled to have the best of both worlds. And hey, there is no rule that says the switch witch can’t give you that bag to stash away and secretly eat after the kids are asleep.
b. SUPPORTERS: The Teal Pumpkin Project is a new idea sweeping through social media. Paint a pumpkin teal and have it on your front porch to parents of kids with food allergies that you have an allergen alternative available.
2. SENSORY DIFFERENCES:
a. PARENTS: Respect your child’s sensory difference. If noise is an issue, avoid those homes that go all out for Halloween. Costumes aren’t always made of comfortable material. Let your child choose his own and try a number of options until one feels right. Contact your local support groups for special needs—there may be sensitive Trunk or Treat nights available which may suit your child much better.
b. SUPPORTERS: Teachers and room parents—if you have children with special needs in your class, tone down the scary a bit. Spooky music should not be on full blast and the mulling around of 25 kids in costume might be disorienting. Have a quiet space outside of the classroom where the child knows he can go to escape if overwhelmed. And for pete’s sake NO BALLOON POPPING ACTIVITIES OR STROBE LIGHTS!
a. PARENTS: Create visuals to help your child understand what to expect at school parties or trick or treat. Try on the costume ahead of time. If your child does not want to participate in Halloween festivities, don’t force them. Throw a small party at your house with old school fun and invite 2 or 3 children he knows for trick or treating, stick to familiar neighbors homes buddy up with a child who can model.
b. SUPPORTERS: If a child does not say “trick or treat” or “ thank-you” he may not be being rude. He may not be able to speak or fully understand what is expected of him. Same goes for a child who appears too large or too old for trick or treating. If a child grabs a handful of candy or doesn’t seem to know what to do when you hold the bowl out, give them a prompt of what to do or physically help them. Their fine motor skills may be impaired and the ability to just pick one or two candies from a dish might be difficult. Still compliment an aspect of their costume even if it seems incomplete. This is still their Halloween too!