Halloween can be a very confusing and often frightening holiday for children in general and even more so for individuals with special needs. Many, if not most of the usual rules of safe behavior and “normal” social interaction are broken. As we all know, on Halloween night children are permitted and encouraged to talk to strangers, perhaps enter their homes and accept gifts of candy from them. Even when accompanied by their watchful parents or caregivers, children and young teens with disabilities can feel confused, overwhelmed and even terrified on this particular autumn evening. At Stanfield, we don’t want our special kids to be left out of the fun and recognize that they are uniquely vulnerable to some of the real horrors of the holiday. By anticipating and identifying some of the potential problems kids with disabilities might encounter on Halloween, we can help to minimize them. Furthermore, we can help our kids to have more of the treats and less of the tricks this holiday portends.
Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries
Our Circles© Curriculum teaches individuals with special needs to put themselves in the center, place significant others close by, keep acquaintances further away, and strangers at bay. Those rules seem to fly out the window like witches on broomsticks at Halloween. How does one explain to a child who you’ve fortified with safety information about not talking to strangers that on this night it is OK to talk to people you don’t know and in fact accept their gift of candy? Explain to your kids with special needs that this is a special holiday, they are with you, under your supervision, and together you will venture out together. Practice typical scenarios. ALTERNATIVES: “Trick or Treat” at the mall or similar public venue where kids don’t actually knock on a stranger’s door. Check what is offered in your local community. These events generally start in the late afternoon before darkness sets in. You could also pre-arrange with other known families to visit each other’s homes.
Some kids love dressing up and others want nothing to do with this Halloween ritual as it can be overwhelming. Help your child choose or make a costume that will reflect his interests. Face-paint, a hat or mask, or no costume at all, if that is his or her preference is fine. Let your child practice wearing the costume to get comfortable with it. Make sure to apply some reflective tape (on both of you) to increase your visibility. You can also increase safety by making sure that your child can’t trip over loose or too-long hems. Children using wheelchairs often get short-changed in the “cool” costume department. One approach is to decorate the wheelchair and make it the center of attention. For some fantastic ideas see the Christopher Reeve’s foundation terrace website: http://www.christopherreeve.org .
Young children and those with cognitive and developmental challenges may have trouble differentiating real life from make believe. Scary movies, “haunted houses”, and horrific costumes should be off-limits. While this tip may seem obvious, it is important to remember that those around you may not be aware of how frightening this may be for your child. Be pro-active: both you and your child can benefit from learning self-calming skills. Anticipate Halloween scenarios and social situations. Practice—this will help to desensitize your child’s fears. Talk—you have an opportunity to clear up misconceptions, dispel fears and promote enjoyment of this beginning of Fall-Winter holiday season.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.