Celebrate Halloween with your Special Needs Child
Updated: Nov 8
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States have a developmental disability. Millions of children may have unique needs when participating in Halloween activities. By being aware of these needs and making Halloween more inclusive, we can ensure that all children enjoy this festive holiday.
Halloween can be a fun and exciting time for children, but it can also be overwhelming for those with sensory sensitivities. Loud noises, bright lights, and crowded spaces can be triggering for some children, making it difficult for them to enjoy the holiday.
Sensory Friendly Activities
Create a feeling table or sensory bin. A feeling table is a sensory activity that allows children to explore different textures and sensations. This can be a helpful tool for special needs children with difficulty processing sensory information. Feeling tables can help children calm down, regulate their emotions, and learn about different textures.
Building a sensory bin can be done in a variety of ways. You want to collect materials that are:
Soft (such as cotton balls and fur),
Rough (gravel, sandpaper), wet (slime or gel)
Dry (beans or rice),
Halloween toys (plastic spiders, toy pumpkins, etc)
Dump all the ingredients into a container. Encourage children to talk about the different textures they feel. You can ask them questions such as, "Is this soft or rough?", "Is this wet or dry?" "Is this sticky or smooth?"
Here are some great resources for building your sensory bin – one includes directions to make it edible!
Other Sensory friendly Halloween activities can include:
Halloween-themed music and Movement activities
Pumpkin finger painting
Play dough with Halloween cookie cutters
By providing children with special needs with opportunities to participate in social-emotional Halloween activities, parents and educators can help them develop essential skills that will benefit them throughout their lives. Halloween can be an excellent opportunity for children with special needs to practice and develop their Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills.
Here are some of the benefits of social-emotional Halloween activities for children with special needs:
Help children feel included and accepted: Halloween is when everyone gets to dress up and be something else. This can be an excellent opportunity for children with special needs to feel included and accepted.
Promote social interaction: Halloween activities allow children to interact with other children in a fun and safe environment. This can help children with special needs develop their social skills and make new friends.
Build self-confidence: When children with special needs can successfully participate in Halloween activities, it can help to build their self-confidence. This can carry over into other areas of their lives, such as school and social activities.
Teach coping skills: Halloween can be stressful for children with special needs. Social-emotional Halloween activities can teach children coping skills to help them deal with stress and anxiety.
So, what activities can we do as a family that help promote my child's SEL?
Trick-or-treating at home with friends and family. Sometimes, trick or treating can be overwhelming to our children. If they struggle with loud noises, strangers, and scary costumes, Trick-or-Treating can seem like a very scary activity. Demystify that activity and set them at ease by setting up spaces in your home for your child to trick-or-treat with family and friends. They can still get the sensation of walking around and getting treats – but are safe in their home with people they know.
Halloween-themed dress-up party. Invite friends and family over for a fun party! You can have story time or movie time, and everyone gets to dress up in costume without leaving their home. You can offer special treats and snacks. Build a blanket fort with pillows in the living room and make it a special occasion.
Halloween-themed story time or playdate. Maybe your child needs more time to be ready and comfortable dressing up. How about dressing in Halloween-themed clothes or pajamas and having a playdate or story time. Halloween stories can be spooky or cuddly; you must find the right balance for your child. Having a friend or two over might be their limit, and making it as comfortable as possible while still being "special" can fill that slot they might otherwise have felt left out of.
Looking for excellent Halloween books for your children? Check in with your local librarian, or look at this fantastic list: https://woodlarkblog.com/childrens-halloween-books/.
All around NYC, there are community events that are either sensory-friendly or have sensory-friendly days open to enjoy with your special needs child.
There are sensory family events in NYC zoos: The Bronx, Central Park, and Staten Island Zoo. Attend RISE of the Jack-o-lanterns at the USDAN Summer Camp for the Arts. Go pumpkin picking at Greg's Pumpkin Patch in Brooklyn! There is no shortage of events for you to enjoy as a family.
Libraries and community centers are your local resources for all sorts of activities. Make friends with your local librarian and ask what sensory-friendly things they're doing for the season.
Halloween can be a fun and exciting time for all children, including those with special needs. By being aware of the unique needs of children with special needs and taking steps to make Halloween more inclusive, we can ensure that all children enjoy this festive holiday.
There are many ways to make Halloween more inclusive for children with special needs. The best tips are:
Plan ahead: Talk to your child about their Halloween plans and what they want to do. This will help you identify any potential triggers or challenges and plan how to address them.
Be flexible: Don't be afraid to change your plans if your child feels overwhelmed or uncomfortable. It is more important that your child has a positive experience than to stick to a rigid schedule.
Be supportive: Let your child know that it is okay to take breaks and that they can come to you if they need anything.
Do you have annual favorites? We’d love to hear about your Halloween traditions – tag us on social media in your photos. Let us know what events you stand by, and have a Happy and Safe Halloween!
Helpful Resources and Sources:
Evaluations – Cadenza Center.: https://www.cadenzacenter.com/evaluations/