Halloween fun for kids with special needs

by Laura Sussely-Pope

SpecialThat magical, mysterious, spookiest day of the year will soon be here!

Most kids can't wait to try on their costume and make their way through the neighborhood trick-or-treating.

Your child may have limited mobility, a sensory processing disorder, a cognitive problem or a food allergy.

For kids with special needs, Halloween isn't always an eagerly anticipated treat.

You'd like your child to enjoy Halloween, but you face challenges in keeping them comfortable, happy, and safe.

For you, Halloween takes a great deal of planning and ingenuity. These tips can help make your job easier.

Halloween fun for kids with special needs

Kids with limited mobility

If your child uses crutches, a walker or a wheelchair, get creative with their Halloween costume. The wheelchair can become the city skyline with "superman" as the driver, the cape flowing behind. Your child can be a firefighter on top of his walker which is decorated as the fire truck. Even crutches can complement a costume, starring as the front two legs of a giraffe or octopus tentacles.

Curb your creative before it interferes with your child's ability to move, though. The costume should be short enough that it doesn't get tripped over or caught in the wheels.

Kids with sensory processing or cognitive disorders

Candy, nippy fall air, running around after dark in awesome costumes! What's not to love about Halloween? For kids with autism and sensory issues, there's not much pleasant about the holiday. Costumes are scratchy, too tight, too loose, too cold or just wrong. Parties with kids dressed up in scary costumes and tons of noise are frightening.

These tips could make Halloween more fun for your child:

• If the noise and commotion bother, stay home and give out treats. Play a game of "guess what costume will come to the door next" to make the unexpected less scary.

• Create a costume out of comfortable, familiar clothing. Your child's favorite black sweat pants and t-shirt morph into a skeleton when you add white tape "bones." A soft and loved hooded sweatshirt can be decorated as a dog, cat, bunny or devil with felt or construction paper. Pair it with matching legging or sweat pants. Your child may have as simple a costumes as a hat or one as complex as their imagination -- and yours -- allows.

• Practice wearing the costume before an event. You can get rid of itchy places or scratchy fabric ahead of time. But just case, bring a soft Halloween-themed outfit or other favorite outfit for your child to change into if needed.

• Kids with special needs may have a harder time understanding the steps of trick-or-treating. Practice ahead of time. You might invite another child for a story hour and help them learn what to expect on Halloween night.

• Instead of heading out for an event, invite a friend or two over for a day-time Halloween party. Have craft ideas, a fun activity and healthy snacks on hand. You can fall back on a movie or Halloween hike.

• Visit a family friend and allow your child to show off their costume in a quiet and familiar setting. Be sure to share a treat from the kitchen and the card your creative kid made.

Halloween and special diets

If your child has food sensitivities or allergies, plan ahead to offer alternatives like toys or all-natural candy.

• Add a warning. You may have seen a child wearing a "STOP! I'm allergic to..." t-shirt. Using the same concept, incorporate a badge or label into the costume and treat bag that explains the situation.

• Look for local events that offer trick-or-treating opportunities for children with special diets. Many communities provide a route for October 30, staffed with volunteer families who give out non-allergenic treats.

Not sure what to offer your child? Ask them! Most kids will be glad to make a trade for something they really want.

Does your child find Halloween rather ghoulish? What has helped turn the holiday into a fun, family event?

Photo courtesy of Laura Sussely-Pope.