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)

Though Halloween parties of my past are now called Harvest Parties at school, 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 that 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.

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 that the goal was for all our children to be included, be safe and have fun. I was perplexed when one parent refused to change the cookie decorating idea she had. “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 that it still excluded them 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 together so you can help teach him 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!

 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 Awareness Month. Day 6 2016. F is for Food.

Running through Water

Day6

F is for Food

This breakfast is 8 years in the making…A2 eats a total of 9 different foods..all presented in a certain way…all brand specific. Starting from 0. He has worked so hard to get to this point and I feel a weird balance of pride, frustration and futility when I see this plate. Feeding issues in autism are common and are outside of “oh, all kids can be picky eaters” or “just tell him if he doesn’t eat dinner, he won’t get anything later–it’s not like he’ll let himself starve”. Because actually….he will. Many children with autism have serious food aversions and feeding issues. The reasons are varied but tend to be due to sensory, texture, medical or obsessive-compulsive issues. Behavioral issues become deeply ingrained in these kiddos when eating is paired with physical pain due to gut issues so common in kids with autistic disorders and can…

View original post 1,204 more words

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

Halloween is right around the corner…here’s some of my top tips and tricks to make Halloween fun and to hand off to any of the indignant PTO moms who have forgotten that ALL kids want to have a good time…..

Running through Water

halloween

Though Halloween parties have turned into “Harvest Parties” at school, the anticipation and sentiment of Halloween is still timeless. As a parent I find myself still caught up in Halloween and 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 that 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 Ninja Turtles who could just very likely just be the same child over and over again capitalizing on those homes who everyone knows passes out full sized candy bars.

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 that the goal…

View original post 1,017 more words

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

Though Halloween parties have turned into “Harvest Parties” at school, the anticipation and sentiment of Halloween is still timeless. As a parent I find myself still caught up in Halloween and 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 that 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 Ninja Turtles who could just very likely just be the same child over and over again capitalizing on those homes who everyone knows passes out full sized candy bars.

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 that the goal was for all our children to be included, be safe and have fun. I was perplexed when one parent refused to change the cookie decorating idea she had. “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 that it still excluded them 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….and another parent was willing to not only exclude him, but risk his safety because she was so excited about her adorable witch hat 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 together so you can help teach him 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: The Teal Pumpkin project is a new idea sweeping through social media. 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. Also, for class parties, 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 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!

 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.

Day 6 2016 (double remix). F is for Food.

Day6

F is for Food

This breakfast is 8 years in the making…A2 eats a total of 9 different foods..all presented in a certain way…all brand specific. Starting from 0. He has worked so hard to get to this point and I feel a weird balance of pride, frustration and futility when I see this plate. Feeding issues in autism are common and are outside of “oh, all kids can be picky eaters” or “just tell him if he doesn’t eat dinner, he won’t get anything later–it’s not like he’ll let himself starve”. Because actually….he will. Many children with autism have serious food aversions and feeding issues. The reasons are varied but tend to be due to sensory, texture, medical or obsessive-compulsive issues. Behavioral issues become deeply ingrained in these kiddos when eating is paired with physical pain due to gut issues so common in kids with autistic disorders and can last a lifetime. So-the next time you are out to dinner and see a mom letting her kid eat Poptarts or a huge mound of fries for dinner–she may not be spoiling her kiddo….that dinner may also be 8 years in the making.

F is for Food…Part 2….Behind the kitchen door…

There was this moment  when my then preschool aged child and infant and I were sitting at the dinner table.  I had my plate of one protein, one complex carb and leafy greens, napkin unfurled neatly in my lap, fork down after every bite. My prescribed Xanax appetizer was working as I sat there all June Cleaver-like smiling, asking about finger-paint and sandbox filled days, modeling healthy eating, modeling appropriate mealtime behavior…like I tried to every single day  with little to no success.  Dinner was cuisine and varied every night but there were 3 different dinner plates on the table.  A1 wasn’t growing well and complained every mealtime that his stomach hurt.  It would take him about 1/2 hour to eat even 50% of his meal but a big part of this was because he could not stay seated , would play with his shoes or get up to get a toy.

“Where are you going?”

 “Did you have fun with your friends at school?”

“4 more bites.”

” You love buttery noodles, remember?”

“Don’t lick your shoes.”

“The timer hasn’t gone off yet.”

“I love this picture you made, tell me more about it.”  

While this was going on, A2 sat strapped in to his high chair at the table with mounds of “power packed” foods.  Macaroni and Cheese made with extra cheese, heavy cream and special calorie powder stirred in, crackers, whole milk with carnation instant breakfast.  I was taking him to the doctor every several days for weigh ins because he was not growing or gaining weight with any normalcy.  His Help Me Grow case worker taught me how to increase his calories…something that his dietician did not show me…or even suggest.  He was eating about 1000 calories a day which was about the same amount I was eating to maintain pudgy and yet he still he would only gain ounces over the course of a few weeks.  It made no sense.  Most evenings he would sit in front of his food and not initiate eating so between my own bites I would a cajole him into letting me stick a Mickey Mouse spoon between his lips. He chewed funny. It did not look like he enjoyed eating, but generally he never fought it.  But not this night.  He turned his head from me and giggled at A1 who was now slowly sliding out of his chair, disappearing under the table.  A2’s last weigh in he had dropped 4 ounces but we had no idea why.  (Maybe I needed to put more of that Nestle Additions stuff in his milk?  Should I switch to Boost?  I think that has more calories.  I wish he liked doughnuts!).  In that moment, I experienced PXF (Parental Xanax Failure) and June Cleaver went bye bye. The underlying and increasing anxiety I was having at mealtime that caused me to medicate so I remained calm and cheery sprang to the surface and yelled “Ta da!!!  Here I am everyone!!”  I snapped at A1 to sit in his chair immediately and accused him of distracting his brother to the point of not eating….and his stomach is fine….so finish that spaghetti and garlic bread!   I got out an assortment of spoons hoping A2 would pick one he liked better. He did not. As he sat thrashing his head from side to side and mooshing his lips together to avoid any possibility of the airplane making an emergency landing in his mouth I began bawling and begging him to eat like some bad drama actress from the 1940s. Meanwhile, A1 got up from the table to poop.  What the hell was I doing wrong?  Kids just eat, right?

About a year later, I dusted off that MOTHER OF THE YEAR trophy I earned that day and dropped it in the trash.  A1 started losing weight and his pediatrician started taking his constant loose stools seriously. He had an elevated EMA (antibody test that is specific to gluten…as in that stuff found in spaghetti and garlic bread).  After a week of no gluten he had his first normal looking poop of his life and soon after no more complaints at mealtime.  A2 phased out all solid food before he turned 2 but was increasing the amount of Pediasure he drank.  Within the month of being on a self-induced liquid only diet, he started sleeping much, much longer stretches, started walking and got consonant sounds.  Sure, he projectile vomited 3 times a day but he seemed much happier. His head never spun around even once so we were fairly sure we were not going to have to call for an exorcism.  To save money we switched to the a big box, El-Cheapo version of Pediasure.  What we saved in monthly bills, we spent in clean up costs and therapy bills for A1 because the vomiting seemed to increase–as did his target range. And like fine wine connoisseurs, my husband and I decided the bouquet of  El-Cheapo vomit was not as pleasant as Pediasure vomit.  A1 and his hypersensitive sensory system were traumatized. (see exhibit A)

 

IMG_3936
EXHIBIT A:  Things he likes to smell:  Perfume.  Things he doesn’t like to smell:  Vomit

Through deductive reasoning, I concluded that El-Cheapo brand was making it worse, we switched back and he improved.  A few years later he improved even more when an integrative medicine doctor suggested he couldn’t digest dairy and thought he should be on a “pre-digested” prescription version of the same thing.  “Oh…no.  We had him tested, he’s not allergic to dairy…and our GI said its probably just a mito thing”.  But sure enough within a few weeks of switching again, A2 stopped vomiting.  Completely.  And he was willing to play with and then even taste a few foods.

There is nothing more instinctual to a mother than nourishing her child.  Our species would not survive if this were not the case.  When your child has feeding issues it is normal to doubt your instincts, to question what you are doing wrong, how you are messing this up.   Have I had to drop a few $20s into the therapy jar for later due to my own reactions?  Sure. I am human and I find there has been almost nothing more unnerving than my child not eating or feeling sick when they eat but no one can tell me why. And when someone finally figures something out and they get better to start questioning EVERYTHING.  Make sure you are being honest with yourself.  Are you trying the best you can?  Are you revisiting eating with your child?  Are you trying to create a more relaxed environment at mealtimes?  Can you, especially as a woman in this society put your own food issues aside?  Pat yourself on the back if you can answer “yes” to those questions because your child will continue to thrive because of you.  Breathe….and most importantly, enjoy your meal.