Special Needs Trick-or-Treating

News Team's picture
By News Team on October 22, 2019

Being safe and visible in the dark is important for every child at Halloween. But as Carilion Clinic pediatric occupational therapist Lauren Pittard points out, from strangers and crowds to costumes and food allergies, Halloween can highlight the differences children with special needs face. 

In the latest issue of Roanoke Valley Family magazine (formerly Growing up in the Valley), Lauren shares tips for parents and friends who want to make Halloween as much fun as possible for kids with special needs. 

See highlights from her tips below and then check out the magazine for more, including ways to donate your child's candy without guilt.

Addressing Fears

  • Talk to your child about what what to expect
  • Read stories in which the characters go trick-or-treating
  • Role-play trick-or-treating at home
  • Visit family members or friends to practice ahead of time
  • Attend a local trunk-or-treat event

Adjusting Fabrics

  • Incorporate onesies, pajama sets or leggings into homemade costumes
  • Use sweatshirts and athletic pants with a character-themed jacket

Lauren also recommends adaptive costumes from Target’s Hyde and EEK! Boutique. They address tactile sensitivities, include abdominal access to manage tubes and offer two versions of wheelchair covers.

top view of teal pumpkin filled with non-candy treats surrounded by autumn leaves
Kids don't need to have food allergies to enjoy candy alternatives like small toys and themed school supplies. Be sure to put a teal pumpkin on your porch so special kids can find your special treats.

Adding Weight & Warmth

If your child benefits from using a weighted blanket, think creatively to incorporate balanced weight into their costume.

  • Add a weighted vest to a cowboy/cowgirl or Paw Patrol costume
  • Create a zoologist costume using a long sock filled with dried beans and draped around your child's shoulders like a snake
  • Add extra weight to a backpack if dressing up as Dora the Explorer
  • Create a jetpack from a couple of plastic two-liter bottles filled with rice—or a scuba tank using just one

Lauren recommends trying a weighted costume out ahead of time to be sure the child can tolerate it when trick-or-treating.

Choosing Alternative Treats

One in 13 children has food allergies, so you can make Halloween easier for them by giving away non-candy treats that all kids enjoy. If you choose this route, be sure to place a teal pumpkin on your porch to signify your home includes safe items for children with food allergies or sensitivities. Some ideas:

  • Glow sticks or glow bracelets
  • Slinkies
  • Bubbles
  • Glow-in-the-dark slime
  • Stickers, stamps and temporary tattoos
  • Mini Play-doh containers
  • Silly straws
  • Wind-up toys

Lauren adds an important reminder: a child’s disability or difficulty is not always visible. Every child is different, so these general tips may need to be adapted.

If you have concerns related to your child’s development, consult with your pediatrician to determine if an occupational therapy evaluation would be beneficial.