Fall Festivities and Disabilities

Fall activities in New England are often romanticized and imagined to be picturesque. We all know that when children are involved, particularly children with disabilities, activities like apple picking, pumpkin carving, or trick-or-treating can be challenging. As you plan to take advantage of the last warm and crisp days, there are some ways to support your child during your adventures.

Planning ahead is critical for students with special needs. When you are doing a once-a-year activities, like picking apples, it is important to preview expectations explicitly and over multiple instances. Borrow books from the library about apple picking and fall, watch videos online about picking apples safely, and look at photos you have taken in previous years, or photos of people the child knows apple picking. Answer and ask questions, like “who is going to be there?”, “how will we show a safe body at the orchard?” or “is the orchard near or far?” to prime your child for the expectations. Prepare for any sensory needs your child might have, from the bright mid-day sun (perhaps go in the morning), to crowds and noise, or uneven ground. If your child has mobility issues, plan ahead for the walk to and from the orchard, as well as navigating the trees. You may call the orchard ahead of time to talk about accessibility.

Fall festivals, hayrides, pumpkin picking, and pumpkin carving can present with similar issues, and require similar planning. Pumpkin carving can pose a challenge for children with sensory difficulties, with a strong smell and a slimy interior. Giving your child a different responsibility, like drawing the face on the pumpkin, instead of cleaning the pumpkin out can, be a good alternative.

Trick-or-treating poses a particular challenge for many children with disabilities. Walking around after dark, getting candy, talking to new people, and wearing a costume require preparation for many children. Students with sensory needs may struggle with wearing a mask or costume; it is advisable to wear the costume at home first, and get used to the feeling and the smell. You can provide positive reinforcement for tolerating the costume and prepare for the big night out. It is also a good idea to have a costume backup plan. Preparing with your child about what is expected, perhaps using a social story, will help prevent stressful interactions. Giving your child a script of what to say when people ask questions, or practicing beforehand is also helpful for students who are anxious, have trouble finding words, struggle with processing speed, or are shy by nature.

You can also look for homes that have signaled they welcome children with disabilities or other special needs. Homes with a teal pumpkin outside are ready for trick-or-treaters with food allergies, and many families will make a pumpkin with autism puzzle pieces to signal they are ready to meet everyone’s needs.

The Office of Student Services wishes you and your families a happy and healthy fall!
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