Halloween is one of the most universally celebrated holidays in the United States. It is easy to dread Halloween as a special needs parent because there are so many additional obstacles. There are costumes to consider, specific candy to avoid, scary zombies lurking at front doors (thankfully pretend!), and bedtimes to keep! It can feel overwhelming to think about all the things you need to do as a parent during this busy night. To keep the day fun for everyone, it’s important to focus on what makes your individual kid happy and stay within their comfort zone.
Prepare: It’s important to prepare both yourself and your child for Halloween. First of all, set yourself up with some realistic expectations. If you loved extravagant costumes and staying up all night trick-or-treating as a child, then it might be hard to accept that your son or daughter might not love those things also. The reality is that Halloween can be challenging in a lot of ways for special needs kids. If your kid is done trick-or-treating after five houses, that’s OK! If your kid is more comfortable handing out candy in the safety of their own home rather then going trick-or-treating themselves, that’s also OK! This could also be a great way to create new Halloween traditions with your child! You may find that staying in to bake pumpkin cookies is a more enjoyable activity for everyone. Or watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown while making Halloween crafts is a better alternative to Trick-or-Treating. Try to not get hung up on what Halloween is “supposed” to be. Your Halloween does not need to look the same as everyone else.
Think about how the day of Halloween will stray from your child’s normal daily routines. Maybe they need extra time getting dressed, or have more things to remember to bring. Maybe there are extra activities, or bedtime won’t happen at the same time. It is essential to openly communicate these things with your children and to prepare them ahead of time so that there are no surprises on the day of Halloween. It may also be a good idea to practice anything that might be difficult for your child. This could include practicing knocking on doors, saying, “thank you,” or even preparing to encounter scary witches or monsters along the way. Try practicing with family members or doing role-playing. Using social stories is another great way to prepare your child for what’s to come during Halloween. If you need help finding or creating a social story, speak to your child’s teacher or therapist. You can also search online for Halloween social stories-the internet is full of great resources!
Sugar myth: At some point in your life, I bet someone has told you that sugar makes kids hyperactive. Then, at another point in your life, you went to a birthday party where kids had birthday cake and started acting hyper. This may have been all it took to make you believe that sugar does in fact make kids hyper! A series of psychological experiments in the 1960's confirmed that humans are biased towards confirming their existing beliefs. Maybe these kids were just really excited to be spending time together, or really excited to get cake! Who isn't? That isn’t to say you should let your kids eat their entire Halloween haul in one night, but shouldn't special needs kids get to enjoy a holiday in the same way as their peers? As long as their diet isn't composed entirely of sugar, and they don't have a condition where sugar sensitivity is actually a problem, go ahead and let your kid enjoy a piece of candy or two. Giving your child the occasional sugary treat doesn't create hyperactivity, the same way that eliminating sugar doesn't treat most behavior problems. However, there are also real situations where sugar sensitivity is a problem for your little one. Some great alternatives to sugar on Halloween are glow sticks, stickers, bubbles, temporary tattoos, bouncy balls, or slap bracelets. Have your child help pick out these items to either pass out or keep for themselves. Giving your child choices and some ownership of deciding what to have for Halloween will decrease the likelihood of a meltdown or outburst from not being able to eat sugar.
Don’t apologize: Blue trick-or-treat buckets and teal pumpkins are becoming increasingly popular over the last few years. This helps to create awareness of all the issues that many families with neurotypical kids are not informed of. Do not let anyone make you feel guilty for however you decide to celebrate Halloween. Do not be ashamed about your child wanting to trick-or-treat with a minimal costume. It is OK to give your child a lollipop on Halloween, even if they make questionable behavior choices afterwards. Don’t take it to heart if a stranger assumes that your child is rude or has poor manners. Try not to let anything stand in the way of enjoying the day with your child. Halloween is an exciting time for kids, and we should let them enjoy it in whatever capacity they want as long as they are not harming themself or others.
Goally can help you recover: Halloween is an overly stimulating time for children, but luckily Goally can help get your kids back on track after the disruption it brings. As much as your child will love all the excitement, they will need to get back on schedule for school the next morning. With Goally, they can pick up where they left off with their normal daily routines, which makes an easier transition for both parents and children. Luckily, you even have the option to delay your morning routine on Goally for the next day if your child was having so much fun on Halloween that you decided to stay up a little later than normal to make a few extra special memories!
By having a consistent routine after a day of inconsistent activities, you’re setting your child up for success which will continue to build their confidence and encourage positivity through the day.
Editor's note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.