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How To Host 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. But Halloween isn't easy for every child.

This how-to guide guide offers tips and additional information to help families and the surrounding communities create more inclusive Halloween celebrations.

Be Aware of Sensory Concerns

Sensory issues affect, on average, 1 in 6 children in the United States today. Make your Halloween more sensory inclusive by improving awareness and limiting sensory triggers.

Remove Obstacles for Other Disabilities

14 percent of all children attending public school receive special education services for a disability. Remove obstacles to ensure that children have equal access to Halloween activities.

Eliminate Food Allergy/Feeding Challenges

1 in 13 children are diagnosed with food allergies and many more experience other issues with food. Consider non-food alternatives to traditional Halloween candy.

Reduce Triggers that Can Cause Anxiety

Research shows that anxiety disorders affect as many as 1 in 8 children in the United States. Reduce triggers at your Halloween celebration to focus on fun over fear.

Foster a Gender-Affirming Environment

According to research, between 2 and 12 percent of children experience gender dysphoria in adolescence. Affirming gender-creative costumes can help children to maintain self esteem.


Tips to Make Your Celebration More Sensory-Friendly

Sensory issues affect, on average, 1 in 6 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.

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. 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.
  • Improve your sensory awareness with the Connecting for Kids Sensory Awareness Program. This program helps families to identify common sensory issues and have a conversation with the appropriate provider.

Alternative Halloween Activities for Families

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.

Alternative Costume Ideas for Families

Not every child can tolerate a Halloween costume. We loved this article with tips for creating a sensory-friendly Halloween costume and an entire Pinterest board with costume ideas.


Tips to Make your Celebration Allergy/Food Issue-Friendly

1 in 13 children are diagnosed with food allergies and many more experience issues with food, including diabetes, swallowing issues and oral motor challenges. Traditional candy treats can cause some unintended Halloween struggles for these children, but there's an easy fix: 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.

Ideas for Families to Accommodate 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:


Tips to Make your Celebration Inclusive for Children with Anxiety

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. 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.

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:

  • 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.


Tips to Foster a Gender-Affirming Environment

Halloween is a time when children can imagine themselves to be anyone - including someone with a different gender than their own. This is called gender expression. According to experts, gender expression through a Halloween costume that carries traits of the opposite sex does not necessarily mean that a child has a different gender identity or that he or she has a different sexual preference.

Because a percentage of children do experience gender dysphoria (a disorder in which an adolescent identifies with a gender other than the sex assigned at birth) in adolescence, it can be helpful to affirm gender-creative costumes. Community members can do this by acknowledging positive aspects of the costume. For example:

  • Tell the little girl dressed as LeBron James what a great role model he is.
  • Let the little boy dressed as a ballerina know that you love dancing too.
  • Or just say "Happy Halloween!"

This video co-sponsored by Colors+ Youth Center

Ideas for Families of Children who Choose Gender-Creative Costumes

Families can support their children's costume choices by:

  • Warmly receiving their child’s decision
  • Role playing how to handle questions from peers
  • Developing an age-appropriate safety plan in case of bullying


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 nonspeaking 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 Awareness Program.

Ideas for Families of Children with Other Disabilities

Additional Articles, Tips and Resources


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