Halloween For and With Children With Special Needs

As Halloween approaches many parents are in the spirit preparing costumes and treats and getting ready for parties and trick-or-treating. But for parents of children with special needs, there is often more than your average preparation.

How does a child with sensory issues handle a costume or the noise of a busy neighborhood? How does a child in a wheel chair navigate stairs up to a house and what costume will work best in a wheel chair? How does a child with limited verbal skills communicate “Trick-or-treat” and “Thank you?” These and other thoughts go into the preparation of Halloween for parents with children with a disability.

As a household who receives trick-or-treaters it’s always a good reminder that the child who is grasping in the bowl may not be greedy, but may just have delayed fine motor skills and be struggling to take just one piece. The child who does not say thank you may not have poor manners, but may just be nonverbal. A child who might seem agitated may not have missed his or her nap, but might be experiencing sensory over load. So we’ve included some advice for you as well.

Preparing
Norma Honeycutt, executive director for Partners In Learning, says that visuals are great ways to start talking with your child about Halloween.  This will help to make the traditions of the evening more familiar and the evening itself less scary for the child.  She suggests Halloween books and social stories.

The Costume
Dr. Ashley Deaton, occupational therapist and co-owner of One Step At A Time Therapy Services, says that many kids with special needs cannot handle wearing a mask or a costume that is tight fitting around the neck.  She says costumes that velcro shut and don’t require a mask or hood often work best.

For children who are less mobile, incorporate a child’s wagon or stroller into the costume. “Make the wheelchair look like a boat and the child dressing as a sailor or mermaid,” says Deaton.

Honeycutt reminds parents that, especially for young children, scary costumes for Halloween can feel very real. She suggests taking your child to a store and letting them look at all the costumes. “Show them scary costumes while they are not on.  The worst thing that parents can do, that I so often see, is scare their child by putting on scary mask and laughing.  Remember, that this is all new to them and their fear is real.”

Jenn Scott, who has a son with Down syndrome, shares that he does not like hats or masks. This Halloween he will be wearing skeleton pajamas with nothing on his head and a skeleton sweatshirt in case it’s cold.

Lindsy Maners says her son who has Down syndrome was fine with a costume last year, but this year he’s been having more sensory issues with clothes. “He wanted to be Spider-Man, but once he tried it on, he was very upset. So we opted for a football player, which is made up of all of his own clothes. Comfort and happiness and much more important.”

For children with sensory issues:

  • Avoid hoods or hats
  • Avoid or remove tags
  • Avoid stratchy costumes
  • Keep the wasteband loose
  • Make a costume out of the child’s own clothing
  • Make a costume out of sweat pant material
The Route
Deaton advises to avoid random houses.  “Lots of people take the scare factor of Halloween very seriously and it can be traumatic for some kids to be scared like that,” she says. “Going to houses of family and friends and going to community trick-or-treat events such as the mall or downtown shops would be much safer.”
Communication
There are lots of options for children who are non or semi verbal to communicate phrases like “trick-or-treat” and “thank you.”
  • Use a greeting card that allows you to record a message. With some Halloween paper and decorations to cover the original card contents, you can help the child record their “Trick-or-treat” message and then practice having them go up to the door and open the card when someone answers so that they can join in on the Halloween fun.
  • Make written cards with phrases and put them on popsicle sticks or small rods. Allow the child to decorate them with festive colors and stickers. There are also ones you can download.
  • Teach the child the signs for the phrases.
Advice to the trick-or-treat receiver
“The best advise for the people receiving trick-or-treaters is  to not judge children’s behavior,” says Honeycutt.
“For people receiving trick or treaters I’d suggest buying nonfood treats to give in case a child comes to the door who doesn’t eat by mouth, can’t have candy, or is allergic,” says Deaton. She suggests a small coloring book/crayon combo from the Dollar Store. “You don’t have to worry about a choking hazard and they can practice their fine motor skills.” She said small stuffed animals or small balls are also good options.
Toni Robinson who works as an advocate for children with special needs adds, “If someone can’t understand what a child says or means or needs, just say, ‘I am sorry, I don’t understand, but I want to. Would you (to the child or the adult traveling with) be willing to help me understand?’”
When trick-or-treating just doesn’t work
For some children, even with accomodations, trick-or-treating just isn’t fun. When that is the case, consider staying home and allowing them to pass out the candy.

“For our son, who experienced major discomfort with costumes of all kinds, was terrified of clowns, yet loved the idea of Halloween and giving treats, we listened to those preferences and allowed him to be a welcomer and treat distributor,” says Robinson, whose son is 30 and has special needs. “To this day, he still enjoys doing that and looks forward to Halloween. To this day, he has huge appreciation for all holidays and continues to invite us to notice reasons to celebrate day in and day out.”

Beth Goodman agrees, “We decorate the house with non-scary things, read books about dressing up.” She says her son, who has Down syndrome, doesn’t care to stay in a costume and he doesn’t eat candy. “So his job is to sit by me in the driveway, fire pit going, and pass out candy. We have to buy a lot because he’s generous with his handouts.”

Jill Wagoner is Secretary of the Board of Directors at Partners In Learning and the parent of a son with Down syndrome.

 

Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury PostModern Parent, and Rowan Magazine.

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A Childhood With Less ‘Stuff’

I think one of every mother’s dreams is for their child to have experienced an awesome memorable childhood. Some mothers go as far is to specifically plan activities in hopes of creating memories for their child. My mama was one of these. I have so many fond memories of my childhood like rolling down the hill at Rowan Memorial Hospital which is now the parking lot for Wilson Smith Outpatient Center at Novant’s Rowan Regional Medical Center. I recall family bike rides, picnics and taking walks in the fall to gather pecans and kicking piles of leaves. Yearly beach trips in the summer without a reservation which meant riding around all night looking for the flashing vacancy sign. But by far one of my most spectacular childhood memories are the walks we used to take.

Before every walk mama would say, “Okay, we are going to look for a pretty leaf, a pretty stick, a pretty rock and a shiny penny.” I spent the entire walk with my head down searching for the most perfect leaf of the loveliest color. A stick that was just right. A smooth rock that fit perfectly in the palm of my preschool hand and the ever difficult shiny penny that always proved to be a challenge. Although miraculously I always found one to put in my pocket and had a story to tell about how I spied it on the side of the road.

Childhood is a time of forming memories and thought patters that will last the rest of their lives. You want to make sure that your children have memories that build them up and make them better adults, not ones that tear them down and make them resentful and afraid. As parents we will always make mistakes, however we can still make our children’s memories something to cling to when it comes time for them to raise their own children.
Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D., a renowned child psychiatrist, says that, “parents are so deeply concerned with providing the best for their children that they neglect to join them….It is up to the parents to foster an atmosphere of solidarity through play….The child desperately needs this form of participation. The play hour can become the focal point for harmony and understanding between parents and children…. A definite time for family play can become part of the daily routine.”

It was always so very exciting to me to find that shiny penny, a memory that I will cherish forever. My parents gave me the gift of time. I did not always have all the “stuff” that my friends did but I had “experiences” with a loving family and amazing parents that created lifelong memories for me that can never be replaced.

Deborah Howell, Assistant Director, Partners In Learning

Deborah Howell is the Assistant Director for Partners In Learning.

Deborah Howell is the Assistant Director of Partners In Learning. Her education includes an associate’s degree from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree from UNC Greensboro in human development and family studies with a concentration in birth-kindergarten. She also holds a master’s degree at UNCG. She also serves as a CBRS therapist for the center.

The Dream

According to Walt Disney “If you can dream it, you can do it.  Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.”  Partners In Learning Child Development and Family Resource Center started with a small group of individuals with a dream that all children regardless of their ability could learn together in a quality early childhood environment.  In their wildest dreams, they couldn’t have imagined what it would have become today and the difference that the programs it provides will make in hundreds of children’s lives each year.

There are only 2,000 days between the time a baby is born and when that child shows up for the first day of kindergarten. If the child is in child care, they will spend more hours in care in those first five years than they will in all of the remainder of their school years put together.  According to the latest research, these early experiences have a lasting impact on later learning, health and success. That is because children’s earliest experiences literally determine how their brains are wired; lay the groundwork for future health; and form the foundation of the social and emotional skills needed for academic and workplace success (http://www.first2000days.org).

We also know through research that high quality early education yields higher graduation rates, reduced crime, higher earnings, and better jobs. As a result, economists estimate that every dollar invested in early education produces a 10% return on investment through increased personal achievement and social productivity.  Partners In Learning is committed to excellence in early care, intervention and education by working hard to maintain accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children.  There are currently more than 9,000 child care facilities in NC and only 115 are accredited.  Partners In Learning is proud to be a part of this elite group.

Partners In Learning is also committed to ensuring that our program will produce sustained results at the local, state, and national level.  This is critical to keeping the United States competitive in a global market.  For this reason, our curriculum is rich early literacy and integrates S.T.E.M. into all of our classrooms.  STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These are the exact areas of knowledge where Americans are lagging behind many other nations. They are also the subjects that we emphasis in order to ensure that our children will be able to compete in an ever-growing global arena.

Partners In Learning’s natural outdoor classroom extends the learning by offering gardening, exploration of the eco system by putting on rain boots and climbing down in the creek, caring for chickens and collecting their eggs, having a concert in the music garden, or bird watching in our bird habitat.

Norma Honeycutt, Executive Director

As the Executive Director, I’ve been a part of this dream since 1998.  It has been a wonderful journey.  The dream that began with such a small group of passionate individuals lives on today and continues to grow.  It’s going to be exciting to see where the dream leads us next.