With Halloween only days away, it’s likely that your little ghouls and goblins are counting down the hours ‘till they can slip into their costumes and trick-or-treat their way to a sweets-induced bellyache. But for children with special needs, Halloween can be a challenging holiday. Spooky lights, loud noises and scary masks pose difficulties for kids with sensory sensitivities, while all those sugary sweets can prove to be more tricks than treats for kids who are hyperactive or inattentive.
So what’s a good mummy—err, mommy—to do? We talked to three North Texas moms with kids who have Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) about how they prep for Halloween.
CREATE A TRICK-OR-TREAT TRADITION
It’s more than just excess sugar that is cause for concern. The holiday’s use of loud noises, bright colors and strobe lights means that children run the risk of overstimulation. Creating a holiday family tradition—one that does not revolve just around trick-or-treating—will help ward off all that toil and trouble.
Dina Alsaid chooses a trick-or-treat route with care for her two children, 9-year-old Mona, who has ADHD, and 7-year-old Abe, who has autism spectrum disorder. “What we do as a family is […] trick-or-treat at a few homes—maybe one or two streets, at the most,” says the Richardson mom.
Skip houses that are decked out in loud décor and opt for homes on quieter streets in the neighborhood. After collecting goodies, plan an activity to do instead of heading directly home. “We take them out for dinner so that they do not get over-stimulated,” says Dina. This will help prevent your kiddos from thinking of nothing but candy, candy, candy.
Creating a family ritual has helped with her kids’ expectations for Halloween over the years. “They know that they can go trick-or-treating, but that at the end of the night they cannot devour all of their candy.”
Mom of three Kristin Rodgers stocks up on non-candy alternatives— bouncy balls, wax lips, stickers, silly string and little toys—to dole out at the door and to give her own little monsters. While her middle child is the only one formally diagnosed with ADHD, she says that each one of her boys exhibits hyperactive tendencies.
The Fort Worth mom encourages her kids to trade items from their Halloween haul for different prizes and presents. Her oldest son is a fan of Fortnite, so this year Kristen created coupons to access certain paid perks on the popular game in exchange for candy.
She notes that this take on the holiday is not right for everyone. “I know some people think video games are so bad, but the reality is kids are going to play them,” she says. “And I’d rather he was playing a game than eating chemicals and sugars and whatever else that’s altering his chemistry.” In short, if her child is over-excited, she’d rather it be because he made it to the next level than because of a sugar rush.
Dina similarly stocks her home with plenty of options for trick-or-treaters. In addition to a variety of candies, she also makes sure to have granola bars and packs of gummies on hand. “You never know dietary restrictions,” she says.
COMPROMISE ON THE CANDY
Corrinne Skelton, a special education inclusion support teacher at Briarhill Middle School, strikes a balance that works for both her son with ADHD and her typical daughter. “It’s so hard to discourage a 7-year-old from participating in the things most other children do,” Corrinne explains.
The family still indulges much of the traditional trick-or-treating traditions. After popping around the neighborhood, “I let both of my children go through their candy and eat some of it that night,” she says. “Sometimes I feel as if one bad night of a lot of candy is better than spreading it out over time.”
After they gorged on some goodies, her kids select their top five favorite candies to enjoy as an after-dinner treat during the week. “Much of the time, they forget about it entirely and [the candy] quietly goes away, never to be seen again,” she shares. (The rest of the candy? Corrinne brings it all to Briarhill to share with her co-workers.) It’s a rule that has been in the family so long that Corrinne’s kids don’t think twice about handing over their candy.
“I really don’t like the candy culture that my kids are growing up in,” Corrinne laments. “I wish we focused more on other rewards, but it is what it is.”
This article was originally published in October 2018.