Halloween is fast approaching, and for many parents of children with disabilities, it’s a holiday that can become overwhelming quickly. So I would like to offer a few tips to help you and your child(ren) enjoy the spirit of Halloween, regardless of the ongoing pandemic and any prior experiences that may have left you feeling disheartened.
1. Select your child’s costume around their interests. If your child is unable to make a selection of their own choosing, help them by deciding on a costume that reflects their current interest –keyword, current. A costume chosen with this principle in mind will likely be more enticing and exciting to wear because of their connection to the theme. Additionally, keep in mind that any costume should be sensory-friendly (e.g., tolerance for specific clothing pieces, accessories, and fabrics).
2. Safety first, second and third. 1) Just as supportive equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers are often incorporated into one’s costume, so can wearing a mask. 2) This year, instead of trick or treating door to door, try organizing outdoor stations/tables with your neighbors for safer interactions. One way it’s safer is that candy can be spread across a table or in some other creative spaced-out way to eliminate multiple hands from rummaging through a candy bowl. Another way it’s safer is that children can collect their candy from the sidewalk or in a more open space –like a driveway, allowing all trick or treaters to maintain a safer distance while in passing. 3) Don’t forget the sanitizer. Though this is likely second nature by now, keeping a bottle of sanitizer on your body will help keep germs at bay.
3. Practice makes it easier. For those who have service providers, you can easily ask their behaviorist, speech therapist, or occupational therapist to help do a practice run of trick or treating in costume. For example, one can practice communication targets and greetings, while others might benefit from practicing behavioral and movement targets. In any case, building familiarity and tolerance in the days before Halloween festivities can make all difference between enjoyment or disappointment.
4. Prepare your child for what they might expect. For many children with disabilities, the slightest change in their daily routine can be stressful. You are not alone in this, as it is also true for typically developing children as well. The best solution I can offer is to prepare your child’s expectations well before the actual event. While simple discussions may be enough for some children, if you find your child needs a little more support, try using social stories and visuals (e.g., pictures of the different stops or houses in the neighborhood, children in costume smiling, etc.). These tools will give your child the confidence to participate.
5. Set up your child(ren) for success. Several children with disabilities have food sensitivities, allergies, or special diets to be mindful of. If you are unsure of the kind of treats that will be available from your neighbors, bring selected treats to replace what your children will be given. Removing unacceptable options will be made much easier and meltdowns avoided if those replacement items are handy.
One key tip: keep it light! Whether it be 5 minutes of festivities or half a day, it’s important to end festivities on a positive note and not wait till everyone is tired or irritable. A positive experience can be something to build on for the next year. On the flip side, a negative experience can be one that leads to further reluctance.