Celebrate Halloween with a child with special needs

Celebrate Halloween with a child with special needs

Halloween is right around the corner! While most children can’t wait to dress up and prowl the neighborhood for candy, Halloween can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for children with special needs. “Halloween can be a very overwhelming and a scary time for children with special needs. There’s a lot going on and a lot the brain has to process. Loud noises, crowded environments, unfamiliar sights, strong smells and textures of clothing/costumes can be over stimulating to a child,” said Rachel House, occupational therapist at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital.

Halloween is full of fun activities for children and families to enjoy. To make the most of this spooktacular day, take a look at a few tips that will make trick-or-treating this year an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Sensory Sensitivities

Children with sensory processing difficulties can sometimes have a hard time wearing a Halloween costume. Depending on the child, he or she may reject a costume that is scratchy, too tight, too loose, or just doesn’t feel right. “Parents should be mindful of their child’s personal preferences when it comes to picking out or creating a Halloween costume each year,” said House. However, parents can still have fun creating a costume out of comfortable, familiar clothing. A child’s favorite black sweat pants and t-shirt morph into a skeleton once you add white tape “bones.” Also children can grow accustomed to their costume by wearing it around the house before the holiday.

Non-Verbal Kids Can Still Ask for Candy

Children who can’t speak can still ask for candy with augmentative communication. Children can get the trick-or-treat message out this Halloween by using technology such as an iPad or iPhone or something simple such as a card or sign. “It can be something as simple and fun as creating or decorating a trick-or-treat sign with your child to add to their costume,” said House.

Practice Makes Perfect

Children with special needs may have a harder time understanding the steps of trick-or-treating. Practicing before the big day can be very helpful for the child. They can practice ringing the doorbell, saying “trick or treat” and “thank you” after choosing a treat. “Rehearsing and practicing social situations beforehand with your child will help them feel more prepared or comfortable. Some neighborhoods are also more challenging for children in a wheelchair to get around in, so making a plan of which neighborhoods are the most accessible will help trick-or-treating be more enjoyable for them as well,” said House.

Make sure to discuss the difference between Halloween and the rest of the year. Your child needs to understand that at other times, it is not appropriate to knock on a stranger’s door.

Pass Out Treats Ahead of Time

If a child has special dietary needs or food allergies, parents can give neighbors safe Halloween treats in advance to hand out to their child. Choose the houses you are going to visit and tell your neighbors how to approach your child. Make sure there are not any spooky decorations or blinking lights that could upset your child.

Have Fun at Home

If noise and commotion bother your child, stay at home and give out treats. Play a game of “guess what costume will come to the door next” to make the unexpected less scary. Parents can also do crafts and fun activities at home to make the holiday extra special.

Occupational therapy is offered throughout the year for patients at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital. As Oklahoma’s only inpatient pediatric rehabilitation hospital, patients receive a wide variety of services, from 24-hour medical care to special education to therapy. If you would like to donate to outpatient therapy, please click here.


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