Canada: Brenda's Corner: Halloween Haunts

Last Updated: October 30 2018
Article by Brenda Agnew

Halloween is arguably Maclain's favourite holiday. We choose his costume carefully and start the process about 6 months in advance. Usually, it is a superhero of some sort, but we have also seen him dress like a rock star, Buzz Lightyear, a frog and a spider. Themes have varied over the years for sure.

It took a few years for him to catch on to the fun of dressing up for Halloween and participating. There were challenges some years with health issues, sensory overload, and oral aversions. Slowly over the years, he has to come to embrace and love this yearly event and looks forward to it. We do however have many conversations leading up to the night where we talk about how some of his friends will want to run ahead, we won't be able to get up to every house, and his costume ideas may not always work with his headrest and cochlear implants, meaning masks and headwear is often a no-go.

For many kids with special needs through Halloween can be a stressful and overwhelming experience.

The Tricks of Halloween

Knock Knock: The reality is that houses aren't always accessible, and that's just a fact. Navigating a driveway willed with kids running back and forth is one thing, but when encountered with stairs or other barriers, it becomes virtually impossible for a child with a mobility device to access the doorway. I am often the one running up for Maclain and then needing to gesture to him and explain that I am not the one trick or treating, but rather being his "legs". I am always taken aback when someone challenges me or is suspicious of my motivation. I can assure you, I don't need your treats. I wouldn't be knocking on your door if I didn't have to. One of the kindest gestures are often those people who come out and greet Maclain and put something in his bag for him knowing he can't get to them. I would love to find more ways to encourage people, weather permitting, to maybe find ways to be at the end of driveways or at the bottom of stairs giving out treats to make it easier.

"Trick or Treat": For kids who are non-verbal or struggle with communication, having to say "Trick or Treat" and "Thank You" over and over and over again can be daunting and nearly impossible. I have stood there with Maclain, sweating, as I listen for him to say the words that the person was waiting to hear before giving him a treat. And then staring at us waiting for a thank you. I don't like talking on Maclain's behalf, and try really hard not to, but on Halloween night I feel pressured to do so in an effort to make sure we are expressing our gratitude to the people giving out treats to our kids. It would be great aside from having a big sign on his chair to find a way to let people know that maybe some kids struggle with verbalization and if they can't say the words, let's just be kind and give them a treat for having the courage to dress up and come to the door.

Chocolate, and Candies, and Chips, Oh My!

Many children with special needs have challenges with eating orally. They may have problems with textures, or swallowing issues, life-threatening allergies or special diets. Many kids have feeding tubes and don't take any food or drink by mouth. These children still want to get out and dress up and have fun with their friends prowling through the neighbourhood to partake in Halloween activities, but can often be left disappointed when they can't consume the treats they have collected. In recent years, projects such as the Teal Pumpkin Project have been implemented. This is project encourages residents to place a teal-coloured pumpkin in front of their home to show they have non-food treats available for children with food allergies and other kids for whom candy is not an option. We have started doing this at our house the last year or so, and plan to continue this year!

Many community associations, children's treatment centres and local organizations are starting to offer sensory friendly, or fully accessible Halloween trick or treating events for children in their area. Using shopping malls, or schools, or other community locations to create welcoming environments for children with special needs. This is another wonderful way to make sure that ALL kids and their families can participate in the fun of dressing up and getting treats.

As with most things in life, events like Halloween take extra planning, thought and awareness not just as parents to a child with special needs, but as active members of our community. There are always opportunities to include all children in activities, celebrations and events, it just takes some extra effort sometimes. I would encourage all families and individuals in all neighbourhoods to think about their planning for next year and find ways to make the Halloween experience the best that it can be for all the princesses and superheroes, witches and pirates with a little extra attention on ways to make it inclusive for ALL.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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