DECATUR – It's not the costumes or creepy music that makes Halloween scary for some. Instead, it's the fear of knocking on a stranger's door for a child with autism or the disappointment of getting a candy bar with banned foods for someone with allergies.
But parents and advocacy groups are taking steps to ensure all children are included this Halloween.
“It's important in life that we include our kids with disabilities to the greatest extent that we can, because they are a part of our family,” said Jan Kriisa.
As the parent of a child with a disability, Krissa said Halloween can be a stressful time for children with an autism spectrum disorder. Kriisa facilitates the Macon County Autism and Asperger's Support group through Macon Resources.
“Some of it is not being prepared to know what to expect,” Kriisa said. “Kids with autism don't do well with being surprised.”
All children with autism are different, but Krissa said all parents can benefit from letting their children know ahead of time where they're going and what to expect.
“Talk to them in advance and try to prepare them for what's coming,” she said.
Parents can tell Halloween stories, use pictures and role play trick-or-treating weeks ahead of time to prepare their child. A costume should be tried on a head of time as well so the child can become comfortable in it.
For nonverbal children, she suggests using a tape recorder to say “trick or treat” or hand out a card to those giving candy with a message such as “my child has autism, thank you for being friendly.”
Her son is 17, so she's used to educating others about his disorder, but Kriisa said newer parents might struggle being out in public.
“It can be hurtful so they try to avoid those situations, as an older parent I try to let (newer parents) understand maybe that person has never come in contact with a child with autism and it's a good learning opportunity.”
The advocacy group Autism Speaks recommends parents of children with autism spectrum disorders prepare for Halloween ahead of time. The agency suggested in its blog to practice going to a neighbor’s door and receiving candy and understanding the child's limits.
“If your child is not comfortable trick-or-treating, you can start by going to three houses,” according to the post. “Assess how your child is doing and build up to more houses the following year.”
Children with food allergies can also face a series of setbacks when trick-or-treating, so this year, the Food Allergy Research and Education organization is encouraging a new tradition.
In an attempt to include all children in the holiday, the group is encouraging people to paint a pumpkin teal and place it outside along with a free sign that reads “nonfood treats available here.”
Dentist Bret Jerger of Jerger Pediatric Dentistry said more people are starting to hand out non-food items in an attempt to avoid a sugar overload.
“People are more aware of the fact that the candies aren't good for kids, plus they're getting so much of it,” Jerger said.
The more sugary items children eat throughout the day, the more likely children are to have tooth problems.
“It can severely increase the rate of getting cavities, big time,” Jerger said.
To help avoid some of those cavities, Jerger's office, at 2101 N. Main St., will be collecting unopened candy the Wednesday after Halloween to send to care packages for service men and women. Children will receive $1 per pound of candy and will be entered into a drawing if they include a letter to a soldier.