Nova Scotia

How to make Halloween more accessible to everyone

For some kids, Halloween can be a scary time — and not for the right reasons. Some have physical disabilities, allergies, diabetes or are on the autism spectrum. Here are a few ways to make sure everyone's included.

'Halloween is for kids — for all kids,' says one advocate

Advocates say there's lots of ways to make sure every kid can have a fun Halloween. (Shutterstock)

With the spookiest holiday around the corner, you and your family might be gearing up for a fun and frightening night.

But that can be more complicated for kids with physical disabilities, allergies, diabetes or who are on the autism spectrum.

Whether you're going trick-or-treating or handing out candy at home, here are a few ways to keep all kids in mind this year.

Make your treats accessible

Tova Sherman, co-founder and CEO of reachAbility, said it's easy to include children with physical disabilities — such as vision impairment, hearing impairment and mobility challenges — in your Halloween plans.

"We don't expect you to put a ramp out," she said. "It would be lovely, but we don't expect it."

ReachAbility is a Halifax-based non-profit that builds accessible programs for people facing physical or mental barriers.

Sherman said there are a number of ways you can make children of all physical abilities feel welcome at your house when you're handing out candy:

  • If a child is visually impaired, tell them what sort of treat you're giving them before you put it in their bag.
  • If a child is hearing impaired, make sure to show them the treat before you put it in their bag.
  • Keep your walkways and steps clear of Halloween decorations.
  • If you're expecting trick-or-treaters who use a wheelchair or crutches, meet them outside or at the curb with candy so they don't have to make their way up a set of steps or down a gravel driveway.
  • Consider setting up a table on your porch or in your front yard to make it easier for you to keep an eye out for kids so you can meet them outside.

Sherman said if you know of children with disabilities in your neighborhood, reach out to their parents in advance to see if you can make any accommodations for them.

And if you're a parent whose child might need accommodations, tell your neighbours about it in advance.

"Share the information with the people you care about and let them know that together, accommodation isn't that scary," she said.

Understanding different needs

With scary costumes, lawn decorations and some houses blasting Monster Mash on repeat, Allison Garber said trick-or-treating is a very stimulating activity for all children.

But this excitement and stimulation is often much more pronounced for children with autism spectrum disorder.

"It's a really overwhelming experience," said Garber, a board member of Autism Nova Scotia who has a 10-year-old son on the autism spectrum.

"There's tonnes of kids on the street, you're going up to strangers' houses, you're excited because you're getting candy."

Garber, whose son is on the autism spectrum, says Halloween can be overwhelming for children with autism. (Submitted by Allison Garber)

She said there's a number of ways parents can make sure their child has a safe and fun Halloween without getting overwhelmed:

  • If your child is uncomfortable with trick-or-treating, they can instead do Halloween activities at home or with a small group of friends.
  • If your child decides they want to go out, avoid going to houses that are playing loud music, scary sounds or have intense light displays.
  • Know when your child begins to feel overwhelmed.

If you're handing out candy on Halloween, Garber said that a little understanding goes a long way:

  • Don't be judgmental if a trick-or-treater looks a little older than most, as some children on the autism spectrum may have a developmental delay.
  • If a child is non-verbal they won't be able to say "trick-or-treat," so don't always expect a back-and-forth.
  • Have patience with children who seem anxious or overwhelmed.

Garber said that as her child got older, he became more comfortable with trick-or-treating.

"I think that, more and more, there's greater awareness that there's a diversity of abilities amongst children," she said. "And lot of kids have disabilities or differing needs."

Be aware of food allergies

According to Food Allergy Canada, almost 500,000 Canadians under the age of 18 have food allergies, which means nearly half a million children have to take extra precautions while trying to enjoy trick-or-treating each year.

Beatrice Povolo, director of advocacy and media relations for Food Allergy Canada, said peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg and wheat are common allergens that can be found in lots of candy and chocolate products.

"Halloween is for kids — for all kids — and if you have a food allergy, it is a little bit more challenging," she said. 

"Having support of their community and families in the neighborhood really does go a long way in trying to include these kids as part of the whole Halloween fun."

Food Allergy Canada is running the Shine A Teal Light campaign to raise awareness for food allergies during Halloween. (Food Allergy Canada)

Povolo said if you're handing out candy, here are some things to consider to make sure children with allergies can have a happy Halloween: 

Non-food treats are also good to give out to children with diabetes.

If you're a parent who has a child with a food allergy, Povolo suggested that you take an Epipen with you while trick-or-treating, and don't let your children eat any food before you check the ingredient list.

Managing sweets

If you have a child with Type 1 diabetes, Diabetes Canada has some suggestions to ensure they can still enjoy Halloween:

  • Make sure they have some snacks while they go trick-or-treating because walking can have an impact on their blood-sugar levels.
  • Count the carbohydrates in the candies and work them into your child's meal plan.
  • Having your child eat their candy with a meal can reduce the impact on their blood sugar levels.
  • Buy candy to hand out right before Halloween so your child can resist temptation.
  • Offer to trade some of their candy for toys.

A full list can be found on the Diabetes Canada website.

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Alex Cooke

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Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca

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