Halloween in the special needs world is different, With typical children there may be some last minute costume changes, excited children ready to run from house to house trying to get as much candy as they can. They love to pretend to be something else for a night and love doing the same things, and going to the same houses every year, One of our traditions is to get fries and hot chocolate with my friend and her child. But when you have a special needs child, many of the things we all take for granted are way more challenging. I asked a bunch of special needs mom’s how their Halloweens look different and I will be quoting them throughout this post. There are things about our family that make Halloween a little different too.
The tradition of Halloween is very confusing to many special needs children. They do not understand the reason for dressing up, getting candy and the whole process. Once mom told me, “It took my autistic son a few years to get the gist of ‘once a year you go outside, walk up to strangers’ driveways, say the nonsensical phrase ‘trick or treat’ get handed or reach into a bowl and take one (or some random times more than one) candy, then instead of stopping to unwrap and eat the candy immediately, you put it/leave it in your bag and try to head to as many houses with lights on as you can.” He’s got a point if you think about it.
Some moms need to do some preparations even before Halloween gets here. For kids with autism and other sensory issues costumes are a huge problem that needs to be addressed, before the big day occurs. For these kiddos, costumes are itchy, awkward, and just different, They need to practice wearing the costumes so that they will leave them on. Some kids can’t tolerate the costumes even with practice.
The actual trick or treating is a big challenge as well. Kids with anxiety have a lot of trouble going out in the dark to houses of people they may not know, and say something like trick or treat. For these kids, Halloween doesn’t involve trick or treating. One mom told me, “We dress up and really enjoy going to trunk or treats because everyone participates and it’s easier for our son who uses a posterior walker”. These kids either do smaller local Halloween events, or to give out the candy rather than receive the candy. For kids in wheelchairs, or with other mobility issues, going to people’s doors just doesn’t work. A mom told me, “We have to go to a public place like a mall. My girl can’t walk long and needs her wheelchair to enjoy. However most homes we can’t access so the mall is the safest place.”
Then there’s the candy. Many kids don’t like candy, many can’t eat candy due to medical reasons or allergy reasons. They still want to take part in the holiday, see their friends and all the cool decorations, and just enjoy. My son falls into this category, to some extent. He is allergic to artificial food dyes. They cause him to become aggressive. We have decided that after he goes trick or treating, we will buy all the candy he can’t have from him for a quarter each and he can use the money to buy something he wants. Other people have their kids get a visit from the “Switch Witch” who comes on Halloween night and takes their candy and “switch” it for a toy. They still enjoy the experience of trick or treating, even if they don’t actually eat the candy.
The last thing I want to focus on is kids that appear “too old” to trick or treat. These kids may be taking a younger sibling or family friend out to trick or treat for their parents. Maybe the child’s parents are not in good health and are unable to take their children. Some people have Autism, or other developmental disabilities like my daughter, and have a mental and developmental age that is far below the age they appear. Or, who knows, maybe they are teens or older teens who are just out having a good time. Trick or treating is why better than other mischief they may get into in my humble opinion.
Why did I think it is important to share all this information? Because I think it’s super important to look at life from different perspectives. When you are trick or treating with your kids, or handing out candy, please do it with compassion. Some moms and kids have worked very hard to have their kids participate in the fun that is Halloween in their own way. Some look a little different, some may act a little different, but all kids, even big kids, want to participate and want to have fun in their own way. If you see a young child who does not have a costume on, or one that doesn’t speak when you open the door, or a child that looks “too old” to trick or treat, please take a moment to remember some families, and especially the kids, have worked very hard to get them to your doorstep. Please give them a piece of candy, smile, and wish them a Happy Halloween, just like you do for every other child.