UAB Medicine News
Celebrate an Inclusive Halloween That’s Safe and Fun for Everyone
Halloween is meant to be a fun time of year for kids, with plenty of festive decorations, sweet treats, and creative costumes that let you be someone else for a day. Unfortunately, some children aren’t able to truly enjoy this holiday because of food allergies, anxiety, and disabilities. With a little planning, though, you can overcome these issues and embrace inclusivity in your own household celebration.
With advances in modern medicine, food allergy diagnoses in children are on the rise, and more parents are becoming aware of allergy triggers and symptoms. In fact, an estimated one in 13 children has some type of food allergy. The most triggers are nuts (especially peanuts), wheat, milk, soy, eggs, and fish.
Chocolate often contains milk and sometimes nuts, too, creating a common source of allergic reactions during the Halloween season. Meanwhile, children who have issues with swallowing or motor skills may become frustrated or be put at risk while simply trying to enjoy Halloween treats. To play it safe, you can offer non-food treats as an alternative in order to be more inclusive of all children. Small toys, pencils, and stickers are great options that are festive and fun for the season.
Recent studies have suggested that at least one in 20 children is affected by a sensory processing disorder, and these symptoms can become more pronounced at Halloween. Every action requires a certain amount of sensory processing, and it can make some kids uncomfortable when these signals aren’t able to trigger appropriate responses. Experts have compared the phenomenon to a neurological traffic jam, which can result in anxiety, depression, and other symptoms.
Scary decorations, strobe lights, or simply wearing a costume can be traumatic for children with sensory issues. Since this unique holiday only rolls around once a year, children may not know how to deal with these forms of sensory overload and suffer panic attacks, which can cause serious physical and emotional issues.
Some disabilities are clearly visible, such as when a child uses a wheelchair, but other disabilities are far less obvious. For example, many children who struggle with communication skills and social skills find it difficult to ring a doorbell and say “Trick-or-treat!”
Anxiety disorders are common among children, but they can be hard to detect and recognize when a cute little one in costume arrives at your door. Never push kids at your doorstep for a verbal response or social feedback if you do not know what their capabilities are. If your front porch has stairs or obstructions, you may want to sit outside under good lighting to welcome all types of trick-or-treaters to your home.
Trick-or-treating isn’t the only traditional Halloween activity that can cause problems for sensitive children. Haunted houses, corn mazes, and scary movies also can trigger emotional issues and spoil the fun.
The good news is that there are many family-friendly activities in Central Alabama that you can enjoy without fear, including The Great Pumpkin Patch in Hayden and the pumpkin patches at Griffin Farms in West Blocton and Old Baker Farm in Harpersville. Before the Halloween season kicks off, talk to your kids about the meaning of Halloween and how to determine what’s real and make-believe. For some children, your best bet may be to avoid traditional Halloween activities altogether and opt for a family movie night or a fun game of mini-golf or bowling instead.
Tips for Embracing Inclusivity
Even if you don’t have kids – or if your kids don’t have any of these issues – creating a safe Halloween environment at your home is the responsible thing to do. The Teal Pumpkin Project is an initiative of the Food Allergy Research & Education organization that advocates for giving non-food treats on Halloween. If you plan to offer small trinkets as alternatives, paint a pumpkin outside your home in the color teal to let families know that you have something other than candy to offer. You can also create a sign to hang outside your door using the free downloads available here.
Even if you love a good fright at Halloween, try to avoid the use of disturbing decorations, strobe lights, fog machines, and other sensory triggers for the sake of sensitive children in your neighborhood. Save these for adults-only parties with people you know well. Masks and scary costumes shouldn’t be worn while handing out Halloween treats to children, and you should never intentionally scare trick-or-treaters you don’t know.
Finally, talk with your kids, friends, and neighbors about the importance of making holidays such as Halloween fun and inclusive of everyone. Making some changes on this one day each year can be a positive starting point for being more mindful of others in daily life.
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