Helpful Halloween hints for children with additional needs

Halloween is a time of the year that many children really look forward to, a time for fantasy and fun, a time for dressing up and scary stories, a time for ‘trick or treat’ adventure and lots of sweets!

The marketing around Halloween seems to ramp up to even greater heights every year, with major supermarkets dedicating whole isles, sometimes several of them, to their Halloween merchandise.

Advertising supports this with lots of TV adverts featuring ghosts, ghouls, pumpkins and spiders’ webs. Then there’s the BBC Strictly Come Dancing ‘Halloween Special’!

But while this is a fun time of year for many children, it can be a really difficult time for some, including many children with additional/special needs.

For them it can be a confusing, anxiety inducing, or even utterly terrifying time.

But it doesn’t have to be like that; if we stop for a moment to think about the things they might find hard and how to put things in place to help them, they can safely join in the fun too. So, what are some of the things about Halloween that children with additional needs can find hard:

1. Stranger Danger?

We tell children all year not to talk to strangers, then on one night it’s suddenly fine to go around knocking on strangers’ doors.

This can be hugely difficult for some Autistic children, for example, who are often very literal in their understanding and can be very confused by this. Why is it OK to speak to strangers today but it wasn’t yesterday? What has changed? What will the rules be tomorrow? Why?

2. Fake or Real?

The more garish dressing up can be genuinely terrifying for a child that struggles to tell the difference between fake and real.

Increasingly, we’re seeing dressing up outfits becoming more realistic with fake gore that makes people look truly terrifying. When that line is crossed for a child that believes that the person really has hideous injuries or has been turned into something evil, theirs is the terror that is real. Cue massive meltdowns, sleepless nights, and recurring anxiety.

3. I’m Scared Enough Already!

Talking about anxiety, some children with ongoing anxiety issues can find the whole business of going out ‘trick or treating’ very upsetting.

Surprises, scares, people jumping out, can all be terrifying.

If it’s hard to deal with the day-to-day anxiety that they face about going out on a regular day, ramp this up multiple times when Halloween is involved.

4. What About Me?

Then there are the kids with additional needs or disabilities that don’t get invited to parties or to go ‘trick or treating’ because they are different.

Here’s another opportunity for them to feel left out, rejected and uninvited because they haven’t been included… again.

5. Parent Problems

It’s not just the kids. Parents of children with e.g. ADHD may not find their children being given loads of sugary sweets very helpful when they are up all night with a hyperactive sugar fuelled child.

There are loads of other reasons beside these, but there are also ways to make Halloween easier for children with additional or special needs so that they can join in too.

Here’s a few ideas:

Helpful Halloween Hints 

• Prepare them in advance, giving them a visual timetable of what is going to happen, how and when.
• ‘Prime’ some friendly neighbours who are known to your child and that you can visit safely with your child knowing that they won’t do anything too scary or surprising.
• Choose less gory and blood-soaked outfits. It’s more about the dressing up than who can look the most terrifying and there are plenty of options to choose from.
• Choose sugar free sweets, or better yet try some healthier snacks themed around Halloween (satsumas as ‘mini pumpkins’ for example).
• If you are hosting a party, think about who might be left out and make sure you invite them.
• Have fun but keep checking on how your child is feeling. If they are struggling, have something that they love doing ready at home, so that you can easily return to that and help them have fun in a different way (carving pumpkins – they don’t have to be scary, making pumpkin mini-pies, decorating a jar to put a battery night-light in, apple bobbing, toasting marshmallows…)

I hope that Halloween is a spook-tacular success for you all this year, especially for those of you with children with additional needs.

About Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and support community. He is a ‘Churches for All’ partner, a member of both the ‘Council for Disabled Children’ and the ‘Living Fully Network’, and serves on the executive for ‘Children Matter!’ Most importantly, he is dad to James, a 17-year-old Autistic boy with Learning Difficulties and Epilepsy.

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