Halloween is looked forward to all year by children. Parties, sweets and the fun of dressing up in a costume. But sadly, some children aren’t able to enjoy this holiday because of food allergies, sensory issues, or are limited access to to a disabilities. With awareness and more creative planning, though, you can overcome these issues and embrace a more inclusive Halloween this year.
An estimated one in 13 children has some type of food allergy. The largest triggers are nuts, especially peanuts, as well as wheat, milk, soy, eggs, and fish. In addition you should consider, issues with food, including diabetes, swallowing issues and oral motor challenges.
UAB Medicine cautions "Chocolate often contains milk and sometimes nuts, too, creating a common source of allergic reactions during the Halloween season. Meanwhile, children who have issues with swallowing or motor skills may become frustrated or be put at risk while simply trying to enjoy Halloween treats."
To play it safe, you can offer non-food treats as an alternative in order to be more inclusive of all children. Small toys, pencils, and stickers are great options that are festive and fun for the season.
The Teal Pumpkin Project is an initiative of the Food Allergy Research & Education organization that advocates for giving non-food treats on Halloween. If you plan to offer small trinkets as alternatives, paint a pumpkin outside your home in the color teal to let families know that you have something other than candy to offer. You can also create a sign to hang outside your door using the free downloads available on their site .For more information on The Teal Pumpkin Project, including non-food treat ideas, click here.
1 in 6 children is affected by a sensory processing disorder, and these symptoms can become more pronounced at Halloween. Scary decorations, strobe lights, or simply wearing a costume can be traumatic for children with sensory issues.
You can make Halloween more sensory friendly in your community with the following tips:
Limit sensory triggers such as fog machines, strobe lights and loud sound effects.
Keep in mind that a child may have sensory issues with wearing a costume. Be accepting of their choices.
Be sensitive to children experiencing sensory overload. They may not know they've reached their limit until it's too late.
Some disabilities are clearly visible, such as when a child uses a wheelchair, but other disabilities are not easily seen. For example, a child who struggles with communication skills and social skills may find it difficult to say “Trick-or-treat!”
Never push kids at your doorstep for a verbal response or social feedback if you do not know what their capabilities are. If your front porch has stairs or obstructions, you may want to sit outside under good lighting to welcome all types of trick-or-treaters to your home (this helps trick-or-treaters with vision challenges too!).
Research shows that anxiety disorders, resulting in frequent and persistent symptoms that impact all areas of life, affect as many as 1 in 8 children in the United States. Children with anxiety disorders may be so overcome by fears that they are unable to participate. To help include all children in Halloween activities, focus on an evening that is fun - not fear.
Even if you love a good fright at Halloween, try to avoid the use of disturbing decorations, strobe lights, fog machines, and other sensory triggers for the sake of sensitive children in your neighborhood. Save these for adult parties with people you know well. Masks and scary costumes shouldn’t be worn while handing out Halloween treats to children, and you should never intentionally scare trick-or-treaters you don’t know.
And finally, keep pets inside. Not only will this help keep your pet safe, it also helps children who struggle with anxiety over animals.
Other Disability-Friendly Halloween Tips from Connecting for Kids
Be prepared to describe treats for children with blindness or low vision issues.
When addressing trick-or-treaters, make sure they can see your face and mouth as you speak. This can help children who struggle with speech and hearing issues. Better still, learn some simple Halloween signs (video).
Be observant. Children with anxiety or other issues may wander from a caregiver or safe area.
Ideas for Families to Help Prepare Your Child for Halloween
One of the best ways families can help fight Halloween anxiety is by preparing in advance:
Additional Articles, Tips and Resources
- 31 Halloween Signs: YouTube Video
- Baylor College of Medicine: Let Kids Dress to Express themselves this Halloween
- Easter Seals: Fun, Inclusive Halloween Ideas
- Food Allergy Research & Education: Teal Pumpkin Project
- Partners for Youth with Disabilities: Halloween Safety & Disability Inclusion Tips
- Positively Autism: Free downloads, including social stories, vocabulary pack, and trick-or-treat cards for nonverbal children
- Snack Safely: Update to Safe Snack Guide and Allergence: Halloween 2019 Edition
- Stress-Free Kids: Halloween Tips to Avoid Meltdowns
- Understood: How My Family Created a Sensory-Friendly Halloween