Tips for happy trick-or-treating with special needs kids
I know as child, I used to absolutely love Halloween. I loved the costumes, the idea of roaming the neighborhood in the dark with a flashlight, making plans with my friends to go trick or treating and of course the candy. Ask anyone who knows me and they know how much I do love my candy… But the point is that Halloween for me was and is a really fun time.
For so many children, it is a great time. So when Elizabeth (who has Sensory Processing Disorder) was younger it was really hard for me to understand why this holiday was, simply, not. For many of our special needs children this holiday is one that poses a number of challenges. Read on for 3 possible scenarii and tips to survive them.
I can remember when words from Elizabeth were a rare commodity. We were happy she said anything, let alone the words ”trick or treat” on command. So on Halloween night, we would approach a door and Emily would ring the door bell and say the coveted phrase, while Elizabeth looked scared….or would make an attempt which came out something like “tic-teet” which, while cute, was quite hard to hear from my standpoint and totally confusing to anyone who was waiting for clear words. So we would, of course, fill in the blanks, smile as if we were totally fine with out five year old lack of language, and put the candy in her bag and YEAH! (sarcasm) head to another house.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW THEN:
That it is okay to explain your child’s lack of language. That telling your child what to expect and what to do during the trick or treat hours (even if they have gone before) is a good thing. That even having a card that says “TRICK OR TREAT” spelled out on it that a non-verbal child can hold up is okay, as it allows the child to participate in the event but takes away some of the pressure to be verbal when stressed.
We would plan great costumes. I am one of those moms that LOVES the idea of creating a costume. When they were younger, I would use the one day off we get in October (teacher’s meetings) to make costumes. We would look in magazines for ideas and then create. Elizabeth would look with us and together we would get an idea of what she liked or wanted to be. Good! Right? Flash to Halloween night. Tears about putting the dark shirt over her head. The dark shirt that she had tried on 700 times prior. The dark shirt that was essentially half of her costume or a black cat. The dark shirt that we had to abandon unless we wanted a full-on meltdown. The black shirt that was put on her bed as she put on her bright orange shirt with a pumpkin on it and was ready to go.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW THEN:
That sensory issues know now rules or boundaries. That in hectic moments, times when schedules are tight or when we are a bit focused on a goal, those issues can become more intense. Hence, the above scenario. That it is okay, actually, more than okay to make these last minute changes. It lets your child know that you understand them and their sensory issues. That trick or treating as a pumpkin versus a black cat is a success and: who was really going to know what they should have been anyway? Truth be told, I tried far more times than I should have to get that darn black shirt on her…
Emily tells me that she wants to go trick or treating with three of her friends. My neighbor tells me that her kids are headed to another neighborhood altogether to go trick or treating. And my eyes go to Elizabeth, who at the age she was, could really have gone out with friends and been fine, if she did not have her special needs. So how do you make this situation work? I will tell you: it is NOT by asking your oldest child to take her sister along…ok, maybe that is what I did. And it did not go well.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW THEN:
That it is okay to make the plans for trick or treating earlier than most. This would have allowed me to make sure everyone had a plan that worked for them. That even though Elizabeth, age-wise, was ready to go with friends, her disorders make her act younger and have a bigger need for supports in situations like this to stay safe. That it is okay to address her needs as such. For the record here: The next year we asked one of her buddies (older) from school to go with her and her friend.
Over the years, Elizabeth has grown to not just like trick or treat but to LOVE it. From the costumes, which she will pick herself and wear, to the canvassing of the entire neighborhood. We have learned from our earlier attempts and still put supports into place.
This will be the first year that we are going to have her hang up her trick or treat bag and have her stay by the door with me to pass out treats. She will look longingly at the street, I am sure. She has had some amazing Halloweens under her belt because we learned how to make them work for her and her needs.
Every child is different, every child has special things they like and dislike and ours are no different. Knowing your child is the key to success. I wish everyone a safe, fun Halloween and please know, that Elizabeth will be happily munching on candy as she waits for those little ones to show up.
Happy Halloween everyone!
Michele writes for TalkTools Blog every month about her experience caring for Elizabeth, her daughter with Sensory Processing Disorder and Dyspraxia. Follow her story since the beginning here.