Allergies and Autism and Sensory Overload, Oh My! How to Make Halloween Inclusive

halloween
The Grim Reaper takes a break to ensure his safety while the ill-prepared firefighter keeps his distance just in case

(originally posted 10/2015)

A couple of years ago I was coordinating a party for my child’s 4th grade classroom. 20% of that classroom had food allergies. I gently reminded parents the goal was for all children to be included, be safe and have fun. I was perplexed when one parent refused to change a cookie decorating idea which did not meet these basic criteria.

Kids who can’t make or eat them can at least enjoy them for how cute they are!”

In what I believed was a teachable moment, I reminded her this still excluded a fifth of the class and also created a potentially dangerous situation. This parent became so incensed that she quit the committee. While I still get as excited about Halloween as the next guy, I was horrified as one of those children was mine.

Another parent was willing to not only exclude him, but risk his safety because she was so excited about her adorable cookie project.

Halloween has become the holiday where those children with differences become the most exposed and have the potential to be the most left out. The numbers of children with food allergies and other differences have risen sharply since I was a child. As a parent with kids with food issues and also autism, it took me many years to figure out ways how to adapt the most super-fun holiday so it was still fun. Turns out, there are lots of ways to do this both as parents and as community members.

Here are some of the top ideas for the “BIG 3” to make Halloween still the coolest holiday ever

1. FOOD ALLERGIES:

a. PARENTS: Sort out the candy with your child to teach his what is ok to eat. Have the “SWITCH WITCH” visit later that night and exchange that bag of candy full of offending allergens with a present. Your child will be thrilled to have the best of both worlds. And hey, there is no rule that says the switch witch can’t give you that bag to stash away and secretly eat after the kids are asleep.
b. SUPPORTERS:  If you paint a pumpkin teal and have it on your front porch it will alert parents of kids with food allergies that you have an allergen alternative available. If you are planning a class party, ASK about allergens—be sure to ask about brand specifics and preparation—that can all play a role in safety. Please remember what it would be like to be 8 years old where everyone gets to eat really cool looking cupcakes except for you. If that were easy to do, none of us would ever be on a diet. The willpower of a child with a food allergy is like nothing most of us can ever understand.

2. SENSORY DIFFERENCES

a. PARENTS: Respect your child’s sensory difference. If noise is an issue, avoid those homes that go all out for Halloween. Your child might be in for a “jump scare” that will end his evening of fun. Costumes are not always made out of the finest of materials. Have him choose his own and try a number of options until one feels right. Contact your local support groups for special needs—there may be sensitive Trunk or Treat nights available which may suit your child much better.
b. SUPPORTERS: Teachers and room parents—if you have children with special needs in your class, tone down the scary a bit. Spooky music should not be on full blast and the mulling around of 25 kids in costume might be disorienting. Have a quiet space outside of the classroom where the child knows he can go to escape if overwhelmed. And for Pete’s sake NO BALLOON POPPING ACTIVITIES OR STROBE LIGHTS!

3. AUTISM

a. PARENTS: Create visuals to help your child understand what to expect at school parties or trick or treat. Try on the costume ahead of time. If your child does not want to participate in Halloween festivities, don’t force them. Throw a small party at your house with old school fun and invite 2 or 3 children he knows for trick or treating. Stick to familiar neighbors homes and buddy up with a child who can model. Sometimes “just a hat” IS a costume with enough thinking on the fly.

Freddie Krueger
Freddy Krueger as a child…before all the drama. He just wanted to feed everyone cereal and soup.

b. SUPPORTERS: If a child does not say “trick or treat” or “ thank-you” he may not be being rude. He may not be able to speak or fully understand what is expected of him. Same goes for a child who appears too large or too old for trick or treating. If a child grabs a handful of candy or doesn’t seem to know what to do when you hold the bowl out, give them a prompt of what to do or physically help them. Their fine motor skills may be impaired and the ability to just pick one or two candies from a dish might be difficult. Still compliment an aspect of their costume even if it seems incomplete. This is still their Halloween too!

The anticipation of Halloween is still timeless. As a parent, I find myself still caught up in creating spooky Pinterest fails and contemplating what candy I can pilfer from my child’s treat bag without him noticing. Some costumes are so realistically scary that I am not certain my red meat consumption hasn’t finally caught up with me and am opening my door to the actual Grim Reaper himself. There is a revolving door of Elsas and Harry Potters who could just very likely just be the same child over and over again capitalizing on those homes with full sized candy bars.

Those of us who try to make our kids feel included no matter what can get very good at scooping up the world around, tying it in a different bow and re-presenting it to our kids and Halloween is no different.  With the help of our community, little tweaks can make all the difference between Halloween being fun or being truly scary.

#autism, #halloweenparties, #halloween, #sensoryprocessingdisorder, #PTO, #specialeducation, #community, #inclusion #dignity #parenting #foodallergies #celiacdisease #specialneeds

Moving Forward on Parental Instinct for Your Child with Special Needs

I posted this 5-Minutes-In-The-Water video about parental instinct on my social media pages back in May.  It is time to talk about it again as a teaser to introduce you all to something new we will be doing with A2, since it looks like it really, really is going to happen.
A2 on paper looks very cognitively, socially and intellectually impaired. A2 in person, looks like the prom king. He is adorable, social, friendly and seems to understand ways of the world which elude the rest of us.
My ultimate goal is for him to be happy, as independent as he can be and to rise to his highest potential to be a contributing citizen. Just like most people want for their child regardless of circumstance, right?
The thing is, he has to be able to learn. He can sit still long enough to learn. He is compliant and yet his learning is minimal, basic and cannot seem to transcend across settings, losing learning over time. If something is being reinforced at school, it is unlikely I will see him do it at home. Such is the nature of his apraxia and autism.
Yet I never had the sense that meant he couldn’t learn.
It just meant we were not teaching him in a meaningful way. We weren’t tracking where he learned the best and how (except for once circumstance…and it literally became the thing he could do well everywhere!).  I found it odd that I had to convey the concept of generalization across settings. It was interpreted, “He can do it with Mrs. X in the resource room, gym and speech room”. My point was that if he couldn’t do these things at home or in the community, it didn’t matter.
It would be like saying I was fluent in Japanese, but only when I was in my kitchen and only when my one neighbor came over. Would it matter if I couldn’t speak it in any other circumstance?
However, last school year, the behavior support person in my school district spoke a bit about a ‘newer’ program called PEAK Relational Training System. She described what I had been trying to convey for years about how I think A2 learns and how to track this through cumulative data collection across multiple settings. I hopped a plane to the west coast and got trained for a Level 1 certification.
Being I have been the only consistent “team member” in A2’s entire life, case managing ALL OF THE THINGS educational, therapeutic, medical, religious and social…coordinating consistency, training, communicating across all settings.  And like everything else, I can go figure out the best thing in the world, but unless I have a dedicated and well trained home team, have education professionals who are critically thinking , while also making them believe I need to play a tighter role and having that happen ALL AT THE SAME TIME, well, it is like waiting for a Super Moon on a Leap Year before the Jubilee.
So I spend most of the time doing a very, very crappy job for my child, or at least feeling that way because I cannot do any of this if even one element is missing. Sometimes that element is me–thus my hypervigilence in learning whatever I can to help. What I don’t know, I don’t know, and I am the physical consistency for him.
And here we are.
All the elements are in place, at least for the moment.  He has been assessed and we discussed preliminary plans. Watching the behavior person’s eyes light and hearing her espouse the same mantras about A2’s ability with the right programming along with her sense of urgency to get moving has sparked a motivation I had forgotten when it comes to parental instinct. So, I move forward with cautious optimism. Stay tuned…..