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8 Ways you can help children with special needs enjoy Halloween

I am a child and school psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.

Don't make Halloween a tricky time for children with special needs

As Halloween nears, many of us think about the holiday with excitement. We begin to plan for costumes, decorate our homes — and try to avoid eating all of the candy before the big day. However, this holiday can sometimes be difficult for children with special needs and their parents. Here are some tips for parents of children with special needs and any other parent, too.

For Parents of Children With Special Needs:

1. Select a costume that combines comfort with fun

Many times, costumes have elements that make them difficult for children with sensory sensitivities. Whether it’s itchy fabric, multiple layers or confusion about how to put it on, the list goes on. If your child tends to be sensitive to certain fabrics or textures, it may be a good idea to plan ahead and really look into how he or she can have the coolest costume while making sure he or she can comfortably stay in it for the evening.

2. A Halloween plan ahead of time

Many children with special needs do better with a schedule or routine, especially when it is reviewed ahead of time. Think about how you would like the day to go. Since Halloween is on a Saturday this year, it is important to decide if you’re devoting the entire day to holiday festivities or if you want to limit it to a large chunk of the afternoon or evening. With that, plan out time to put on costumes, take photos, visit with friends, go trick-or-treating and — of course — eat safe and pre-monitored candy! Lastly, if your child is more of a visual learner, you may want to make the schedule with pictures so he or she can follow along and really understand how the day should go.

3. Review positive behaviors early, before trick-or-treating

Children with special needs often require what we call “pre-teaching” prior to an important event or holiday. That means reviewing expectations before actually engaging in a task. If you want your child to ring the doorbell and say “trick-or-treat!” and “thank you,” you’ll need to practice it at least a couple of days prior.

If you meet a trick-or-treater with special needs:

You may not even realize that the child at your door has special needs. You may automatically think that the child has poor manners or is being rude. However, a lot of times, children with special needs are not purposefully acting that way, or they are acting that way for a reason beyond their control.

1. These kids might have difficulties with social skills

While it is polite to say please and thank you, manners may not be the focus for the child. He may be practicing walking with other children or ringing the doorbell. Manners may be a later goal, so try to be understanding.

2. Some special needs kids struggle with self-regulation

If a child runs into your home the minute you open the door, she may see something interesting or fun she cannot resist exploring. While we want children to manage their impulsivity, this is easier for some than others. Take cues from her parent and patiently guide the child to the treats — and praise her for following any directions or guidance. Her parent will thank you for it.

3. Be sensitive to speech difficulties

Not every child’s language skills are as fully developed as you may expect. If a child does not say the requisite “trick-or-treat,” there is a strong chance that it’s due to lack of ability rather than defiance or non-compliance.

4. Be aware of sensory sensitivities

If you really get into the Halloween spirit and decorate your doorway with spooky or loud objects, this may be scary or particularly difficult for children who struggle with a variety of sensory inputs. While you should still be festive in your own way, this is something to consider as you prepare for the holiday.

5. Pay attention to food allergies

As we become more aware of a variety of food allergies, it is always a good idea to have a non-food treat in your Halloween basket so all children can enjoy the holiday. Whether it’s stickers, cute Halloween erasers or something similar, there are often inexpensive options to consider that optimize inclusion on such an exciting day.

For more parenting tips, please visit childmind.org.

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