Sensory-Friendly Trick or Treating for Children with Special Needs

It is now Fall! (I know… Time is flying!). Luckily, this time of year brings a variety of joyful holidays, where everyone can reunite and momentarily forget about world events that may make us wary. The first holiday coming up is Halloween, and if you have little ones at home, it is an especially exhilarating day, as they can dress up to be anything they want! Not to mention – the plentiful, delicious candy. Realistically, some families will feel it is safe enough to go out trick-or-treating, while others will prefer to stay at home due to COVID-19. Each family is different and will ultimately make a decision that is right for them. Arguably, when taking safety precautions (e.g., mask wearing, social distancing), Halloween can still be both a fun and safe night for all children. It is important to note, however, that not only should we think about physical safety, but we also should think about emotional safety for our children with special needs. To we are going to discuss how to make Halloween sensory-friendly for children with special needs or autism.        For children with special needs, Halloween can be very overwhelming due to the different sights and sounds, as well as all of the interactions with strangers. Some children may also not be able to eat candies due to food allergies and sensitivities. Thus, how do we help children with special needs still enjoy Halloween? Below are some helpful tips for children who experience sensory issues, food issues, and anxiety, to ensure the best possible experience for your little ones.    Tips to Make Halloween Sensory-Friendly       Children who display sensory issues have difficulties processing information received through the senses. They may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive, or both. For example, a child with hypersensitivity to sounds may become extremely upset when hearing a loud noise. Loud noises are common during trick-or-treat outings; children are laughing and screaming, and decorations commonly surprise you with “spooky” Halloween sounds. Another example is if a child has hypersensitivity to touch, which may limit their Halloween costumes, as many often feel overwhelmingly uncomfortable on the skin. Tips to help in this area include:   
  • Offer an alternative fun Halloween night event (e.g., family movie night)
  • Go trick-or-treating at an earlier time of evening. If it is not possible, prepare your child for what he/she may experience 
  • Be accepting of any Halloween costume your child chooses, ensuring that he/she is comfortable in the texture of clothing
  • Have some sensory-friendly toys handy (e.g., fidget spinners, tangle toys) 
  • Judge whether an environment is over-stimulating with sounds/people; oftentimes, children with sensory overload do not know they have reached their limit, until it is too late
  Tips to Make Halloween Allergy/Food Sensitivity Friendly       Some children are unable to eat candies due to food allergies and/or other issues (e.g., oral motor challenges). It is, therefore, important to consider non-food treats for these children. The Food Allergy & Research Education organization launched the Teal Pumpkin Project, which raises awareness of food allergies, which the ultimate goal of helping all children feel more included during festivities. The organization encourages families to buy or paint a pumpkin teal (or simply print out a sign to post on the door) to let trick-or-treaters know that there are alternative snacks and goodies. For more information on the Teal Pumpkin Projects, please visit this link: Below are some ideas of some non-food treats: 
  • Glow bracelets 
  • Pencils 
  • Stickers 
  • Mini notebooks 
  • Action/Princess figurines
  Tips to Make Halloween Enjoyable for Children with Anxiety       Research tells us that anxiety affects children more than we think (1 in 8). Halloween is known to be a “spooky, scary” holiday; while some children may find that idea thrilling, others truly are fearful. Some children with anxiety may be so overcome by fear, that they feel unable to participate. Below are some tips to help ensure these children are overwhelmed by fun, and not fear: 
  • Use Halloween social stories and prepare child for what trick-or-treating is like 
  • Walk in your neighborhood during the day and point to familiar sights 
  • Discuss real concepts vs. pretend concepts
  • Limit the scary decorations and spooky special effects 
  • Make sure the area you go trick-or-treating is well-lit 
  • Avoid wearing masks or scary costumes. If child witnesses others wearing masks/scary costumes, emphasize that they are not real 
  Additional Important Tips
  • Some children may not be able to verbalize “trick-or-treat” or respond with “thank you”; thus, it is important to not push for verbal responses
  • Make sure children can see your face and your mouth when handing out treats, particularly for those with speech issues or hearing issues
  • For parents who have children with special needs, consider buying or making a trick-or-treat bag that lets people know (e.g., Have a trick-or-treat back that says, “I can’t say trick-or-treat yet, but I’m trying!”)
  • Be prepared to describe treats for those with vision issues
  • Read our blog post “A Sensory Friendly Holiday,” by clicking here.
       We hope these tips will be helpful in making every child’s Halloween experience a fun, safe, and memorable one. Keep safe, and have a Happy Halloween.    -Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer              Resources:  How to host an inclusive halloween. (n.d.). from   Teal Pumpkin Project. (n.d.).  from Wegner, R. (2019, May 03).    How teal pumpkins and special trick-or-treat bags help kids with special needs on Halloween. from  

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