Halloween can be a time of joy and excitement for kids (and adults) of all ages. It can, however, be a stressful time for families, as well — especially for those who have children with autism or other developmental disabilities, as well as those with food allergies.
The Illinois Department of Public Health recently issued guidelines for celebrating Halloween 2020 and said “the safest way to celebrate is to stay home and plan virtual gatherings. That said, IDPH recognizes that some will choose to gather together anyway, and instead of denying that reality, we are issuing guidance and recommendations for safer ways to celebrate together in person.”
For those choosing to provide treats for youngsters, you may have noticed royal blue pumpkins popping up around Champaign-Urbana or maybe you saw them around town last year. You might have been wondering what they were or thought that they were a variation of the teal pumpkin project. The teal pumpkin project strives to make Halloween trick or treating safer for children with food allergies by designating homes that provide non-food treats or allergen-friendly treats, but blue pumpkins have another meaning.
The Champaign-Urbana Autism Network states that “blue pumpkins can be carried by a kiddo with sensory needs, anxiety or that is nonverbal to help them participate in trick-or-treating. They can also be carried or displayed as a symbol of support to show Autism Awareness and Acceptance throughout our community!” We have ideas on how to offer an inclusive trick-or-treating experience at your home this Halloween.
- Paint pumpkins. A little bit of paint goes a long way! It could be a real pumpkin or a fake one. It doesn’t have to be large. Purchase blue and teal paint from a local craft store (just a few ounces is often less than $2) and get the whole family involved in the activity.
- Print out a poster, or make one, and post it. The Food Allergy Research and Education Teal Pumpkin Project website includes downloads for public use. There aren’t posters yet for blue pumpkins, but you could always print out a pumpkin coloring page and make it blue.
- Buy blue or teal pumpkin buckets (just note these can be difficult to find in Champaign-Urbana area stores as this movement has become more viral). As of the publishing of this article, blue buckets were available on amazon.com here. Teal buckets can be found here.
For a child that is non-verbal, Halloween can be a night full of many emotions. There are many new sights, sounds, smells, foods, waiting time, and transitions that children experience on Halloween. These sensory experiences, along with the excitement of a night full of fun, are ones that can be made that much more successful by an inclusive community surrounding and supporting all of our children.
There’s no need to treat children differently, but consider that those with autism and/or other special needs:
- may have limited language, so requesting them to say please and thank you may overwhelm them.
- may come in their regular attire, as sensory or other issues limit their ability to tolerate wearing a costume.
- may have trouble making eye contact.
- may not have the motor coordination to take a piece of candy, so be prepare to hand it out, or leave the candy easily placed on a table where a child could pick it up safely.
Autism Speaks provides social stories and other helpful tips for those who wish to be more prepared for ALL trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Looking for allergen-friendly candy for Halloween? Visit www.snacksafely.com in order to plan your candy purchasing for options that may eliminate some of the common allergens for children.
A few minutes of preparation and knowledge could mean the world to a child and their family by providing them a memorable and meaningful opportunity to be included in a well-loved childhood experience.