Like many people, Halloween holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve always been a fan of “spooky season;” cooler weather, changing leaves, jack-o-lanterns and ghost stories have always put a smile on my face. One of my favorite things about the holiday is trick-or-treating, and I think it has everything to do with becoming a parent and seeing how much dressing up for Halloween means to my kids. Because kids don’t just dress up. They transform. They don’t just wear a pirate costume. For one night, they become a pirate. They aren’t just pretending to be astronauts, they are astronauts. A princess dress? That’s a royal ball gown, thank you.
Watching that transformation has taken me from a Halloween enthusiast to an all-out super fan. And while I love seeing the creativity people use in putting together their Halloween porch décor, ready to welcome trick-or-treaters in all their imaginative gear, I have also learned that the standard Halloween set-up isn’t always the most inclusive. This might seem like an odd observation at first, but consider: not all kids are able to eat certain types of candy due to food allergies, or eat candy at all. Some may use a walker or a wheelchair, and navigating porch stairs or dark walkways may be difficult. Some children are nonverbal, so it would be unreasonable to require them to shout “trick or treat” to receive candy. The great thing is, with a little thought and some creativity, you can make Halloween fun and accessible for every princess, pirate, ghost and astronaut that comes your way on Oct. 31.
Here are some helpful tips to ensure your Halloween celebrations are safe and accessible for children of all ages and abilities:
- Think outside the wrapper. Many children are not able to eat certain types of candy because of food sensitivities or allergies, and many may get nutrition solely via G-tube or be on a specialized diet. Consider non-candy treats, like erasers, fun pencils, stickers, glow sticks, stamps, mini playdough cans…the possibilities are endless. Chances are, these unique items will be favorites of all your trick-or-treaters!
- Bonus tip: Some people will put a teal pumpkin (symbolizing food allergy awareness) outside the door to signal to trick-or-treaters that their home provides non-food treats on Halloween.
- Consider the accessibility of your porch and walkway. Can a child using a walker or a wheelchair access your front door? Is your walkway covered with branches or other lawn debris? Is your walk-up well lit? Some families will create a trick or treat “station” on their driveway, offering a wider, more accessible space for children to gather. Make sure your porch is well lit and free of any debris to ensure a safe space for little ones to come up to your door. If your porch has a step up, consider adding some lighting to help trick-or-treaters see it.
- Welcome nonverbal trick-or-treaters. Not every child is verbal and will be able to say “trick or treat,” so don’t require it to get candy. Similarly, not every child is comfortable reaching into the bucket to pick a treat; if you notice they are shy or uncomfortable reaching in, pull out a couple of treats to choose from.
- Be aware of sensory sensitivities with your Halloween décor. Flashing lights and loud noises may not only be frightening for little ones, they may also be very upsetting to children with sensory processing issues or certain neurological conditions. If you choose to use décor that includes these features, consider turning them on later in the evening, after smaller children have gone home.
And now…the countdown to Halloween begins! I hope these tips are helpful for you in creating a boo-tiful celebration that is playfully spooky, inviting and inclusive. Happy Halloween!
About the Author
Shelly Reyes, BSN, RN, CPN, is a peri-operative Charge Nurse at Valley Children’s Hospital. Passionate about enhancing the customer experience for families with special needs children and raising awareness among medical professionals who treat them, Shelly leads efforts to provide training and tools to improve patient care. In 2014, she launched the George’s Pass program to make a positive impact on the hospital experience for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In 2019, George’s Pass expanded to its first community partner – the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Learn more about George's Pass here.