How you can play a part in raising awareness of food allergies and promoting inclusion for all trick-or-treaters this Halloween

Child Health, News | 2 years ago

How to Make Trick-or-Treaters with Food Allergies, Autism Spectrum Disorders Feel Included This Halloween

How you can play a part in raising awareness of food allergies and promoting inclusion for all trick-or-treaters this Halloween.

From dressing up in your favorite Halloween costume to marveling at all of the spooky decorations in your neighborhood as kids collect buckets of treats, Halloween comes with all sorts of excitement for children.

But for the one in 13 children under the age of 18 who suffer food allergies or 1 in 59 who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), anxiety comes not from the potential fright, but the thought of not being able to participate in all of the fun on October 31.

Yasmin Senturias, MD, FAAP, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and Ekta Shah, MD, a pediatric allergist with Atrium Health Levine Children’s, weigh in on why these two medical conditions are challenging for certain families during Halloween and each provide advice to ensure that these trick-or-treaters are able to participate in all of the Halloween fun.  

This October, make room for a teal pumpkin

For kids who face food allergies, a food-induced allergic reaction can be sudden and in severe cases can lead to death. Dr. Shah cites that the major allergens on Halloween are milk, eggs, peanuts, nuts, wheat, and soy. “Children can have reactions ranging from mild to severe having ingested any of these ingredients,” said Dr. Shah. “Being aware of alternatives, and taking precautions, is a simple step toward being inclusive of all children in the neighborhood on Halloween.”

To let families know which houses are offering non-food treats to accommodate those with allergies, consider making room on your porch for a teal pumpkin and buying your child a teal bucket for trick-or-treating to signal that your child has food allergies. So why a teal pumpkin, you might ask? The Teal Pumpkin Project is an awareness campaign encouraging non-food treats at Halloween to support children with allergies and foster inclusion on this holiday. The campaign was launched in 2014 by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).

“Kids with food allergies have a different experience trick-or-treating because they miss out on treats containing ingredients they can’t eat,” said Dr. Shah.  “However, with a little bit of extra planning and caution, they can still have a fun-filled Halloween.”

Go teal! And find your nearest store

Raisins? Pennies? Every grown-up trick-or-treater can recall the house that gave out the treat that no one wanted. The good news is that there are fun, and affordable, options to accompany your teal pumpkin. Most items can be picked up at your local dollar store, Halloween supply store, or online. Made available in a separate bowl to children who identify themselves as having allergies, here are a few options that won’t disappoint:

  • Glow sticks, bracelets, or necklaces
  • Bubbles
  • Noise makers
  • Spider rings
  • Vampire fangs
  • Stickers
  • Mini notepads
  • Bouncy balls

Can I still pass out candy?

Of course. The point of the campaign is to make trick-or-treating as inclusive as possible. FARE recommends taking the extra precaution of keeping your food treats and non-food treats in separate bowls.

What do blue buckets signify?

The blue pumpkin (or blue bucket) initiative is an effort for families to bring awareness to better help neighbors know how to identify trick-or-treaters with autism spectrum disorder. ASD is a neurological and developmental condition that affects social and communication skills, which can cause restricted, repetitive patterns of interests and behavior. The range and severity of symptoms can vary widely.

“When someone uses blue pumpkin candy buckets for trick-or-treating, this means that the bearer has ASD and may not be able to participate in all the traditional parts of trick-or-treating,” says Dr. Senturias “For example, nonverbal children and adults with ASD may not be able to say “trick-or-treat” or make eye contact with the ones giving out the candy or may cover their ears when the noise becomes overwhelming.”

This not only applies to children, but to young adults with ASD as well. In fact, the blue pumpkin initiative originated when one mother of a 21-year-old with ASD shared her son’s story on social media, asking neighbors to treat him as any other trick-or-treater by sharing a piece of candy and not labeling him as “too old” to dress up and join in on the Halloween fun.      

“Participating in the blue pumpkin initiative signifies to the community that everyone, regardless of age and diagnosis or communicative ability, has a right to enjoy various holidays and celebrations that are everyone else is able to enjoy,” says Dr. Senturias. “Halloween is no exception.”