NORTH TEXAS (CBDSFW.COM) – From ghosts to goblins to gooey treats, it’s no mystery why Halloween is such a popular holiday, but it can sometimes be a little tricky for children with special needs.
Easterseals North Texas is a nonprofit focused on advancing the independence of children and adults with disabilities.
They say there a just a few easy steps you can take to make sure all trick-or-treaters feel welcome this Halloween.
Jessie Whitesides, the Director Of Child Development at Easterseals North Texas, says a great first move towards being inclusive is just making sure kids can get to you.
“If a child comes who is in a wheelchair, how are they gonna get up here?” she explains. “So, just be thinking about the Accessibility. Are the bushes going to be too hard to maneuver through If you have lined your sidewalk with bushes?”
If you have stairs or an uneven pathway leading to your door, Easterseals recommends setting up a handout station by the sidewalk.
This helps ensure no one gets left out of the good times.
According to Food Allergy Research and Education or FARE, nearly 8% of minors in the United States have a food allergy.
That means roughly 1 in every 13 kiddos that show up at your doorstep this Halloween is at risk of having an allergic reaction.
Easterseals say that is why it is so important to offer non-edible treats in addition to the typical candies.
“Most candies may contain nuts, milk, soy or wheat. Those are things that are now life-threatening to children,” explains Whiteside.
She suggests small toys, bouncy balls, pencils or glow sticks as safe and inclusive alternatives.
You’re will likely hear the phrase “Trick-Or-Treat” more than a few times this Halloween, but Easterseals says it is also important to remember that everyone expresses themselves differently.
Some children could be non-verbal or face social anxiety obstacles that force them to communicate in ways you may not expect.
“A child might not be able to come up and say trick or treat at your door,” explains Jennifer Friesen, the Vice President of programs at Easterseals North Texas. “They might just walk up and hold their basket out or hold their hand out. So, just going with the theme of being inclusive and meeting the children where they are is important.”
Friesen also notes that kids with impaired vision may need assistance figuring out which treat they want.
Meanwhile, hearing-impaired children often read lips or facial expressions to communicate.
That’s important information to keep in mind if you’re planning to wear a Halloween mask that covers your face.
Sensory Processing Issues
While Halloween is often associated with an overload of sugar, Easterseals says that should not be the case when it comes to an overload of the senses. They say Halloween can be an especially challenging time for Children with sensory processing issues.
Whitesides says things like yard decorations or noise machines can be hard for some children to handle.
“We might need to be able to cut those things off for a minute because even one of those events might create an overload that a child really can’t tolerate,” she explains.
Kristen Dodderer, an occupational therapist at Easterseals North Texas, says the added stress of the pandemic has really amplified some children’s inability to cope with overloaded senses.
“We have seen a lot of kids come in for therapy this year who didn’t get to experience trick-or-treating last year due to COVID-19.
So, the whole event might be an overwhelming new thing to them,” she explains.
Dodderer says that just as each child has their own special costume, they also have their own sensitivities, so there is no one rule to follow when it comes to sensory accommodations.
She says it is best to just focus on being accommodating and respectful of others.
How To Talk To Your Kids About Inclusivity
The team at Easterseals says the best thing parents can do to inclusiveness is talk to their children.
“I think it’s very important to teach children that just because we’re different, doesn’t make us less,” explains Whitesides.
She says it is a good idea for parents to educate their children on different disabilities and prepare them for new experiences.
Kristen Dodderer also says parents should encourage their children to ask questions about anything that confuses them. “I think most parents appreciate that, other kids wanting to learn about their child and getting to know all different kinds of people,” she explains.
Easterseals says following these few simple steps can have a very positive impact on families with special needs children.
Just following these few small actions can leave a big impact.
“In my experience with the families that work here, every little step that their children learn and can do to be part of the community is huge,” says Whitesides.
“We want our families that have children with disabilities to feel included and to feel a part of our community, explains Friesen. “I think it is really important for people to understand where others are coming from and just to extend that kindness and the understanding that we are all a bit different in our own way.”
For more information on Easterseals’ mission to promote inclusivity, click here.