Oct. 31st, Halloween, some even call out to friends, “Happy Halloween!” In my memory book, as a special needs mom and as an elementary teacher for children with special needs, Halloween is anything but a happy occasion. How can parents and teachers make Halloween fun for children with special needs? For many of our children and students with special needs, most holidays are difficult and Halloween is one of the scariest! Halloween could be tolerated if it was only a one day event but if you listen to your kids/students, the buzz about Halloween can be heard as soon as the October calendar page in opened.
Halloween is just one day but if you listen to any kids chatting during all the month of October you will realize that to kids Halloween IS a big deal. I was surprised that there was more hype in the air at school the days leading to Halloween than for any other holiday or event during the year. For any child who is not comfortable about Halloween activities this means October is a very difficult, disturbing month for them and their families. What can be done to make Halloween a happy, healthy happening? Listen carefully from October 1st and be proactive!
Here are my tips to make Halloween enjoyable for children with special needs. Read how to include/soothe your sensory challenged child/student in Halloween activities… costume, food, parties, trick-or treating groups…
One of the biggest worries for many kids is WHO will go with them knocking on doors to ask for treats. Many children are often mean to other kids but Halloween must bring out their meanest streaks. Do you pride yourself in instilling road and Halloween safety rules to your kids? Have you tried to be a good mom and have healthy treats on Halloween? All your principles and good intentions will backfire around Halloween. Your heart will burst when you hear why your child has NO one to go Trick-or-Treating with except his own family.
No. I don’t want to go with you on Halloween because…
- You are too different (using a kind word instead of what I heard) my other friends won’t like me.
- You can’t stay late enough.
- You aren’t allowed to crisscross the road while Trick-or-Treating.
- Your mom doesn’t give out enough candies.
- You don’t wear a mask.
- You don’t do tricks to homes that don’t open the door.
- You don’t eat your stuff along the way.
- You always have the same, ugly costume.
What can parents do when their children with special needs have no friends to be with on Halloween night? Early in the month contact other parents, a support group, or a community group and try to get a Halloween party organized so no door-to-door takes place. If your child cannot tolerate a party, still has no friends and wants to give everything up… plan a special way to greet the kids who come to your door, go to a favourite restaurant or a film theatre dressed in your costumes, check out what is happening at your local library or YMCA, or leave the planet like I wished to do many years :).
Some parents have a small party in their home, they invite a few friends to watch a movie or play games, or they dress warmly and sit outdoors at night to watch the stars and tell stories.
I Don’t Want to Go to School on Halloween
So your sensitive child is shy and absolutely hates noise, crowds, celebrations, new foods, hearing/seeing others eating, uncomfortable clothes, changing clothes, loud music, the school loud speaker, and most of all a change in routine. What type of day will this anxious, easily upset child have at school on the day they celebrate Halloween with shrills and chills?
Is it important that your child go to school on that day? It would be good, and only good, if you have prepared for the day’s activities. Talk with your teacher to know what is planned and what time the activities take place. Have a visual calendar of October so your child knows what is coming. Then have a visual calendar of the day’s events at school so he can prepare mentally. Social Stories about Halloween school events are helpful too. Practice Trick-or-Treating etiquette at home during the month.
For the first years at school perhaps going part of the day would be better. To make your child feel more secure, volunteer to help out in the class that day. If your child does not want you in his classroom offer to help in another section of the school so he feels you can help if he needs you but his friends do not see you hovering.
If the students are encouraged to change into a costume for the “Halloween school party” have a costume that can be pulled on without removing the comfortable clothes he came to school with. Make sure your child has practiced putting it on, removing it, and wearing it around the house before that day.
Many children with sensory issues cannot tolerate a mask or makeup. Opt for a fancy hat and if all else fails and your child is afraid his friends will not know WHO he is trying to be, make an attractive tag with the name and a picture/photo of the character. Another way around “not wearing” a mask it to secure the mask on a stick which the child can safely hold or even pin the mask in the front or back of your child’s shirt.
Make sure your child knows where his costume is when he goes to school (in his school bag, in another bag) and where he must put it to come back home. Show him his name is on everything and that he won’t lose it. Little things are the KEY!
If eating different foods is a problem. Arrange with the teacher beforehand and send a personal party snack for your child to school. With all the allergies some kids have this is often done and there is no stigma attached to this. If your child cannot tolerate being near others who are eating, another activity in a different classroom during this time could be arranged.
Halloween Party Activities
Some schools put different grade levels together in a large area and have a Halloween celebration of games and music. This very loud, lively party intensifies the misery for your sensitive child. If, with all the preparation, your child still doesn’t want to take part in the frolic, plan something else with the teacher. Your child might go in another class where they are doing Halloween crafts or listening to stories being read. If your child is old enough he could be a helper in this class to boost his ego.
Haunting Memories of Hated Halloweens
Being a special needs parent is very difficult on normal days. Add a special event or holiday and often parents are overwhelmed. It is only with careful preparation and accommodations that you can get through another of those dreaded days. As your child gets older, celebrations might become easier. Hope you will have better Halloween memories than mine.