By Ariana Estes

The autumn leaves crunch under the footsteps of witches and superheroes. Orange lights and jack o’ lanterns glow from the doorsteps of neighbor’s homes. And candy is everywhere — it’s Halloween!

Trick-or-treating is a fun Halloween tradition loved by children and adults, but for some children, the holiday can be a little scarier or take a little more planning. We want Halloween to be fun for everyone, so we’ve put together tips for both parents of children with disabilities and for neighbors handing out candy to make it a great night.

Tips for Parents

Trick-or-treating can be a strange change of routine for all children, but especially those with special needs. Take time to practice trick-or-treating with your child so they can become comfortable and enjoy themselves on Halloween. They can practice knocking or ringing the doorbell, practice saying “Trick or treat!” or using their communication device, get more comfortable taking a treat from the treat bowl and saying thank you. Allowing your child to wear his or her costume prior to Halloween is also good practice and can help to identify any sensory issues or interference with mobility or medical devices.

Plan Ahead
You know your own child’s physical and emotional limits best, so planning around them will help to create a fun and memorable holiday. Decide how long and where you will trick-or-treat. Maybe visiting homes around the neighborhood with which your child is familiar would be the most fun, or visiting a few homes of close friends and family. Keep in mind homes that may be too scary, use sound effects or lighting that may be overstimulating, or have decorations or walkways that may be difficult for your child to navigate around. Anticipating these situations will help things go more smoothly so your child can have the best time possible.

Consider Trick-or-Treat Alternatives
Traditional trick-or-treating may not be the best option for your family. Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to have fun on Halloween! Consider other things your child may enjoy on Halloween, such as helping to hand out candy or just watching a child-friendly Halloween movie together while enjoying their favorite treat. Many churches and community centers offer “Trunk-or-Treat” or similar events. These can be more low-key and less stimulating, and can also eliminate the stress of accessibility for children with wheelchairs or medical devices.

Tips for Neighbors

Be Mindful of Decorations
Halloween is a fun time to transform the front of your home and create a spooky, festive environment. Decorating adds to the excitement of the holiday, but be mindful that decorations don’t create hazards for trick-or-treaters with and without special needs. Strobe lights create an exciting effect but can be dangerous to some individuals with disabilities. Be sure that decorations don’t create obstacles and that walkways remain clear and well-lit.

Be Patient with Trick-or-Treaters
Some disabilities are harder to spot, or may not be visible at all. Be patient with all trick-or-treaters who come to your door. For some children with disabilities, certain materials may be extra uncomfortable. Some children may come to your door who are not wearing costumes or are wearing only partial costumes. Understand that these families are not lazy or cheap, but are simply helping their child to enjoy the holiday the most comfortable way possible. Other children may use communication devices such as iPads or what are known as communication cards to help them say “Trick-or-treat” and “Thank you,” while others may not speak at all. Some children may be unsure of reaching into a candy dish for their treat, so don’t hesitate to place the candy in their bag for them. Be friendly and treat all trick-or-treaters with kindness.

Hand Out Non-Food Treats
Candy is a huge and exciting part of Halloween. We definitely recommend handing out candy — you don’t want to be the house on the block handing out toothbrushes! But some children may have food sensitives, allergies or may just not like candy (it happens!). Having some alternative trick-or-treat items in a separate bowl is a great and inexpensive way to help all children enjoy Halloween. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has some great suggestions for alternatives to candy.