For some kids, Halloween means running from house to house, shouting "trick-or-treat" at the top of their lungs, and enjoying all kinds of candy for their efforts. For others, Halloween can look and sound a little different. Wheelchairs might make navigating walkways and porches difficult. Nonverbal people won't be shouting at doorsteps. Candy won't work for those with feeding tubes.
Billed as a "free community event for children and adults with special needs, their friends, family and allies," Inclusive Halloween ensures a night of trick-or-treating is accessible for all members of the community. Hosted on the University of Michigan-Flint campus, 5-7:30 p.m., Oct. 27, the free event connects the university, community organizations and families for a night of fun and acceptance.
Laura Martin, K-12 Partnerships program manager at UM-Flint, created the event in 2019 after seeing firsthand the barriers that exist for some people during the fall holiday. Martin's son, who is autistic and nonverbal, had a difficult experience in which he was denied candy for not saying the common refrain of "trick-or-treat."
"There are so many activities that parents of special needs children don't feel comfortable attending because their child is not going to act the same way as other kids," Martin said. "They don't want to go through the stress and hassle of having to explain themselves at every turn. This event was born out of the idea that no matter who you are, no one will judge you."
Features of this year's Inclusive Halloween include:
- Trick-or-treating rooms split into spooky and happy areas.
- Both candy and nonedible treats are available at tables.
- Free food like hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and ice cream.
- A silent dance party sponsored by Silent Events.
- A calm sensory room.
- Costumed characters, including the Wolverine Stormtrooper.
- A free costume closet for those in need.
- Arts and crafts plus other games.
- A resource fair and more.
Last year's Inclusive Halloween brought more than 400 attendees and 150 volunteers to campus for the event. Melissa Sreckovic, associate professor of education at UM-Flint and co-creator of the event, said that this year is shaping up to be even bigger and better.
"We've expanded our games area and members of the Wheelchair Hockey League will be on-hand to guard the net against shots from our community members," Sreckovic said. "But the biggest thing is that we're working very hard to accommodate as many individuals and circumstances as possible. We will have picture bracelets available with a picture that says 'trick-or-treat' and another that says 'thank you," for example."
Other bolstered accommodations include the option for a dedicated volunteer to assist guests throughout the night, sign language interpreters, an incontinence room and more water bowls for service dogs. Martin and Sreckovic have also composed this social story to help prospective attendees understand what to expect from the night.
"For individuals with autism – for anyone, at times – the unknown can be scary and overwhelming," said Sreckovic. "We created the social story to answer the question, 'What will I do at Inclusive Halloween?' If individuals do get overwhelmed, the Intercultural Center will be transformed into a sensory room with low lighting and tunnels to crawl through and places to draw and read and relax."
While Martin and Sreckovic are working hard to ensure individuals with disabilities are accommodated, Martin also emphasized that everyone is welcome at Inclusive Halloween.
"If your kids are neurotypical, maybe talk to them beforehand and say there are going to be all kinds of people there – they may act differently than you're used to – and that's OK," she said. "We want to expose as many people as possible in a positive way to the disabled community so that it's normalized and families feel like they can go to events like these without being judged."
Logan McGrady is the marketing & digital communication manager for the Office of Marketing and Communication.