Trick-or-TREAT for ALL... Including Kids with Special Needs
“Trick-or-treat! Smell my feet! Give me something good to eat!”
When most people think of Halloween, they picture children running up to a home, yelling “Trick-or-Treat,” holding out their candy bags and buckets, and quickly running to the next house. In this day in age, as neighbors, parents, and fellow trick-or-treaters, we must remember not all kids are the same. There are many children with a variety of special needs who benefit from a level of patience from fellow trick-or-treaters and from neighbors who kindly give out candy on this fun-filled day.
Children with a variety of diagnoses including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, speech issues, issues with motor skills, allergies, and many more may experience difficulties with what most may deem as simple tasks. These difficulties may look different in different kids.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind while trick-or-treating on Halloween, or while greeting trick-or-treaters as you give out candy at your home or establishment.
Some kids may have issues with costumes. The itchiness from the costume material and masks may be a challenge for any child. A child on the autism spectrum or a child with sensory issues may have bigger challenges with costumes. Itchiness and uncomfortableness may lead to tears, cries and even tantrums as the hours pass.
Not only can costumes and masks be overwhelming to wear, it may also be an overstimulating experience to make sense of many people not looking very human-like on this day. This may lead to what appears to be a tantrum, but it may really be overstimulation or fear.
If there are stairs to your home, children with gross motor difficulties may have a hard time going up and down stairs, which may lead them to fall behind from their group. If it is a pleasant afternoon or evening, consider meeting kids at the bottom of your stairs, if you are able to do so.
Giving kids a bowl of candy to choose from may be an overwhelming decision for a young child or for a child with special needs. It may also be difficult for children with motor skill challenges to grab candy for themselves or to simply just grab one piece.
It is natural to expect kids to say “trick-or-treat” and “thank you.” While it may seem minimal, kids with speech delays, selective mutism, autism or anxiety may be challenged with this expectation.
Finally, kids who do not express joy when receiving free candy should not be considered to be rude. Perhaps they are on the spectrum and do not have much range with facial expressions. Perhaps they have severe allergies, diabetes, or celiac and they know they cannot eat any of the candy they collect. Or perhaps they are just tired by the end of the night!
Most adults subconsciously set a level of maturity for kids based upon their size or height. Some kids may just be big for their age. Others may have developmental delays or special needs which are not visible or noticeable within the few seconds before candy is offered. Patience, understanding and compassion for ALL kids goes a long way - especially on days like Halloween!
Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is an Educator and Licensed Professional Counselor with nearly two decades of experience in working with children and families. She is the CEO of Free to Be Mindful - located in Ridgefield, NJ - which provides counseling and mindfulness education for kids, parents and educators.
Vanessa has been featured on the Today Show and is passionate about helping others Learn, Grow & Inspire… all with mindfulness in mind.