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creating an Inclusive halloween

Halloween is one of the most universally celebrated holidays in the United States today. Each year, children pour over costume ideas, dream about the treats they'll collect and enjoy fun, fall-themed activities at school and at businesses and organizations throughout the area. But Halloween isn't easy for every child. Children with food allergies and feeding issues struggle with treats they cannot enjoy. Children with anxiety battle fears and worries connected with sometimes too-spooky events. Children with social skills or communication issues may not have the ability to say "trick-or-treat!" or "thank you." Still others may struggle with finding a costume that fits with a wheelchair or mobility device.

This resource guide offers tips and additional information to help our families and the surrounding communities create a more inclusive Halloween.

Sensory-Friendly Halloween Tips

Sensory issues affect, on average, 1 in 20 children in the United States today. Children who struggle with sensory issues have trouble processing information received through the senses. For example, a child with a sensory aversion to loud sounds may cover his ears and hide in a noisy gymnasium.

As we become more aware of sensory issues, many businesses and organizations are offering sensory-friendly events. You can also help make Halloween more sensory friendly in your community with the following tips:

  • Limit sensory triggers such as fog machines, strobe lights, and sound effects.
  • Keep in mind that a child may have sensory issues with wearing a costume. Be accepting of their choices (we loved this article with tips for creating a sensory-friendly Halloween costume and an entire Pinterest board with costume ideas).
  • Be sensitive to children experiencing sensory overload. Halloween can be overwhelming for a typical child, but a child with sensory issues may not know she's reached her limit until it's too late.

Allergy/Food Issue-Friendly Halloween Tips

With 1 in 13 children diagnosed with food allergies and many more experiencing issues with food, including diabetes, swallowing issues and oral motor challenges, traditional candy treats can cause some unintended Halloween struggles. There's an easy fix for this problem: consider offering non-food treats as an alternative to traditional Halloween candy. Whether you choose to participate in FARE's Teal Pumpkin Project or just keep a few non-food treats on the side for a child who needs them, you can make a difference in a struggling child's Halloween night.

For more information on The Teal Pumpkin Project, including non-food treat ideas, click here.

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Anxiety-Friendly Halloween Tips

Research shows that anxiety disorders, resulting in frequent and persistent symptoms that impact all areas of life, affect as many as 1 in 8 U.S. children. While many of us look forward to the spooky fun traditionally involved in celebrating Halloween, 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 fearful:

  • Save creepy decorations (especially automatically triggered mechanical decorations) and scary special effects for adult parties.
  • Make sure the location where you hand out treats is well-lit (this helps trick-or-treaters with vision challenges too!).
  • Keep pets inside. Not only will this help keep your pet safe, it also helps children who struggle with anxiety over animals.
  • Avoid wearing masks or scary costumes while handing out treats.
  • Don't try to unexpectedly scare trick-or-treaters.
  • Be sensitive to fears and let children know that it's okay to be afraid.

Other Disability-Friendly Halloween Tips

This guide has touched on how to make Halloween more inclusive for several specific issues. The final section includes some additional tips to help make Halloween a holiday that all children can enjoy:

  • Keep in mind that children who are nonverbal may not be able to say "trick-or-treat" or "thank you." Do not push for verbal responses and be sensitive to children who do not give expected social feedback.
  • Be prepared to describe treats for children with blindness or low vision issues.
  • Make sure that you are handing out treats in a well-lit, accessible area. If your house is not accessible, consider handing out treats in a different location (for example, in the driveway or in a community common area).
  • 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. For more information on wandering, see our Wandering Mini-site.

image credit: David Castillo Dominici, freedigitalphotos.net

Sensory-Friendly Halloween: Alternative Activities

Looking for a sensory-friendly alternative to trick-or-treat? Here are a few ideas:

  • Visit the local pumpkin patch
  • Try a "trunk-or-treat" or mall trick-or-treat
  • Have a family movie night with special treats instead
  • Let your child hand out treats from your home
Find more ideas in this article from Easter Seals.

Accommodating Candy Treats

Despite growing awareness for providing non-food treats, many children will still receive candy they can't eat. Here are some fun ideas that will help children give up candy without feeling like they're missing out:

Prepare Your Child for Halloween

One of the best ways families can help fight Halloween anxiety is by preparing in advance:

  • Use Halloween social stories (like this one) to help children get used to the situation
  • Walk your neighborhood during the day and point our familiar sights
  • Discuss real/not real and take turns making examples of silly, not real creatures.
Find more in this article from One Place for Special Needs and this article from American Autism Association.

Additional Articles, Tips and Resources


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