Trick or TREAT!


You shouldn’t be scared to face Halloween because you have a child with special needs

By Lisa Ackerman

All the fun trick or treating that comes with Halloween is something most families look forward to. For those living with a special needs child, this holiday can be a nightmare worse than any authentic ghoul or goblin.

The unpredictability of Halloween along with its sights, sounds, and smells can be 100 times scarier for a child on the autism spectrum or with other special needs. Here are some tips to make the night fun for everyone, but most importantly for our children.

What does this holiday mean?
For some of our children, holidays can be confusing and unpredictable. To help explain that process better, watch fun movies with safe Halloween themes to get ready for the upcoming night. These movies have specific scenes with trick or treating, offering less scary and much more family-friendly themes:

  • Casper  (1995)
  • Halloweentown (1998)
  • The Worst Witch (1986)
  • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

Practice makes perfect!
Start with visiting one house before the holiday. Reinforce the victory by celebrating with a special treat or small toy. You can also practice trick or treating in your garage. Have your child hand out candy to kids who are pretending to come to “trick or treat”.

Get in the spirit with the right costume!
Choose a favorite cartoon or game character:

  • Go for the more simple costumes! Avoid masks, capes, and props (such as swords, shields, etc.)
  • Try it on for size – don’t leave the costume store before you try it on. Make sure it can accommodate a sweater or jacket in case weather is an issue by the time Halloween day arrives.

Trick or Treat Tips

  1. Try to keep the rest of your night routine the same as every night. Start soon after dinner for early trick or treat festivities.
  2. Deliver acceptable, desired treats to neighbors. Explain to them about your child, what they will be dressed as and ask for their support.
  3. Create a neighborhood map. Have your child cross off what houses they have visited and plan for the next one.
  4. Create a social story:  social stories explain Halloween and the upcoming festivities!
    Here is a great sample from “Chit Chat and Small Talk”
  5. And most importantly:  Go with friends that your child loves!
    Children make the best therapists. They do what comes naturally! Have the same children that practiced in the garage the trick or treat process go with your family and child for 30 minutes during early Halloween times. (TIP: Please be sure to thank these wonderful helpers for their efforts! They will be invaluable to your family for play dates after Halloween and beyond!)

All children should be included in Halloween celebrations.  Here is how our non verbal/preverbal kids can experience the fun too:

TACA has created a great way to include all kids in “trick or treat” activities. Use all the tips outlined in this article, and print and make copies of this card.  Practice how to pass it out with your child on the night of Halloween.

What to eat?
Most teachers dread the day after Halloween for the “sugar coma” kids experience and the large negative changes in behaviors. We have plenty of ideas to address this scary concept of too much sugar! Alternative treats for special needs children include:

  • Stickers with favorite Disney channel or Nickelodeon characters
  • Oriental Trading Company offers  great toys or Halloween themed gifts at a bargain price
  • Weigh in for the ultimate trade up!  Have your child trade up their candy for a bigger prize like a toy or if your budget allows, a trip to the movies, the zoo, Disneyland or Legoland (this switch alone could save you on future dental bills!)

Don’t let this be the scariest holiday of all!  With the festivities rapidly approaching, these ideas will surely help your child with special needs experience the joys of Halloween!