A Special Needs Halloween: Creating a Successful and Purposeful Holiday, Pt. 1

A successful and purposeful special needs Halloween is possible, and this 2 part series by guest blogger Amy Stout explains how to make it happen.

Halloween will be here soon, and kids are are already vibrating with excitement. Parents, well, maybe not so much. Especially parents of kids who experience autism, deal with sensory issues, or struggle to overcome behavioral issues. Today and tomorrow, guest blogger Amy Stout offers strategies for a successful Halloween fun for everybody.

A Special Needs Halloween: Creating a Successful and Purposeful Holiday, Pt. 1

Halloween was never my favorite holiday.  I never had a store bought costume and never really desired one.  My siblings/friends and I always just threw something together (there were LOTS of cowgirls and cheerleaders roaming my neighborhood). Oh sure, I loved Halloween for the candy I received, but I didn’t have any special memories.

That is …. until Halloween of 2005.

You see, Halloween of 2005 is when Dan and I were invited to accompany our birth parents to the ultrasound that would declare the gender of our baby.  I remember holding my breath waiting to hear (and just praying they would be able to distinguish).  After an agonizing eternity, the nurse finally told us that we had a “turtle” (aka: a girl).  I cried for joy – I had wanted a little girl so much!!

Dan and I had previously decided that WE wanted to know the gender of our baby, but we did not want to communicate it to anyone else until the actual birth.  It was the hardest secret of  our lives!!  It nearly killed us not to tell. So, to keep from slipping, we named the baby “Boo”.  It was so much fun!

From that moment on, any updates we gave to family and friends about our baby or the progressing adoption always included how Boo was doing.  At the next ultrasound, one of our friends gave us a Halloween card and wrote inside “Hope you get a peek-a-boo” (during the ultrasound) – I thought that was sooo clever!!

Since that special day, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Halloween and the memories of meeting our “Baby Boo” for the first time.

While Halloween is now a special day to us – it has the potential to be a very upsetting day for any child who experiences autism or special needs.  Like most holidays, Halloween is a multi-sensory event.  There is much stimuli to be processed if you attempt to participate in the activities of the season. Our family learned a lot in our first few years of celebrating this holiday and wanted to share with you things that have helped us have a purposeful and successful holiday.

Strategies For A Successful Special Needs Halloween:

Costumes: Make sure your child WANTS to dress up.  Check costumes for comfort level and eliminate any discomforting areas of the costume.  Make sure children have clear vision and breathing passages through masks.  This seems common sense, but it is amazing to me how many children struggle on Halloween while caregivers are oblivious.

Set your child’s expectations: Tell your child what kind (scary, cartoon, etc) of costumes they might see, let them know that they will be safe with you.  Let them know it is ok to feel nervous but that you will be right with them.  If your child will allow it, hold their hand (especially when crossing driveways and streets).  If they won’t allow you to hold their hand, I suggest loosely holding the back collar of their shirt (where the tag is).

Route: Make sure to map out your route ahead of time.  Choose locations that meet your child’s particular needs.  In our family, we go to a different neighborhood entirely.  If we tried to trick or treat in our neighborhood, our daughter wouldn’t understand that it is a once a year event.  Each day she would attempt to knock on our neighbors’ doors expecting candy.

Diet: Eat a good dinner before starting and be sure to monitor your child’s sugar intake.  Plan ahead for a way to distract your child (bring along books, a flashlight, glow in the dark toys or spinners and/or etc to keep their hands busy.  Give them sugarless gum to chew or offer them a chewy tube).  Make sure they stay hydrated.

Schedule/Time: Be sure to watch your child’s endurance level.  If they are tired, give them permission to take a break or stop altogether.  Be sure to attend to your child’s restroom/diapering needs.

Weather: Be prepared for inclement or cold weather. Be sure to wear appropriate footwear.  Keep an umbrella in your vehicle.

Lighting: Choose a location that is well lit.

Know your child’s fears and phobias:  Don’t choose the holiday to conduct therapy or teach your child a lesson in overcoming their fears.

Help your child be prepared: In the state that I live, it is tradition for children to tell a joke when they knock on someone’s house.  If your child is verbal, help them to memorize a joke or two to have ready.  If your child is nonverbal, you may want to create joke cards to hand to the person who answers the door.  Either way, make an effort for your child to be included in the local traditions.  EVERY activity can be adapted.

Reinforce Halloween etiquette: Only knock on doors whose outdoor lights are on, only walk on sidewalks (not on grass), follow the time allowed for trick or treating (do not arrive early or keep going after end time).

What Strategies Help Your Kids?

Amy’s special needs Halloween ideas, as always, are practical and doable. If you’ve discovered other strategies that work for your family, leave a comment. And come back tomorrow for Part 2 of the series where Amy will present strategies for a purposeful Halloween. Until then, check out Amy’s blog at http://histreasuredprincess.blogspot.com/.

Part Two

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.

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