Halloween Safety for Special Needs Children

Halloween is almost here, along with costumes, trick-or-treating, and lots of candy and snacks. There are many ways to prepare to keep your child safe while having a good time. For families of children with special needs there are often extra precautions needed to ensure a fun holiday. Below is a brief list of suggestions and resources that may be helpful.

General Safety Tips

-Choose light-colored costumes that are easily seen at night. If necessary, add reflective or glow-in-the-dark tape to the costume and treat bag.

-Be sure to buy flame retardant costumes or use flame retardant materials. This means the material will not burn.

-Be sure your child can breathe and see out of the costume; be sure masks, wigs and beards don’t cover eyes, noses or mouths. Instead of masks, consider using non-toxic face paint or makeup.

-Put a name tag with your phone number on your children’s costumes.

-Avoid oversized and high-heeled shoes to prevent falls. Be sure costumes aren’t so long a child can trip over them.

-Make sure any props such as swords or wands are short and flexible.

-Walk on lit sidewalks and walk from house to house (no running).

-Cross at crosswalks and do not assume vehicles will stop for you.

-After trick-or-treating, check all treats to be sure they are sealed. Discard any candy with torn packages or holes in packages, and spoiled items.

Trick-or-Treat Basics

Under age 12:

-Children under 12 should always go trick-or-treating with an adult.

-Be sure your child knows your cell or home phone number.

-Children should know how to call 911 in case they get separated or lost.

Older children:

-Older children should have a route and a time limit

-Be sure your child carries a cell phone, and a flashlight or glow stick.

-Children should go in a group and stay together, and only go to houses with lights on.

-Children should never go into strangers’ cars or homes.

For Children with Autism

The sights, sounds and smells of the holiday can be immensely challenging for a child with autism. In many cases, if children know what to expect beforehand, Halloween can be a bit less stressful. Some preparation suggestions include:

-Reduce anxiety by maintaining your child’s regular routine as much as possible.

-Use stories to prepare your child for the holiday and activities you may do. Watch movies with scenes of children trick-or-treating and participating in Halloween activities.

-Mark event dates on your calendar. Consider adjusting how far in advance you prepare your child if he gets anxious when anticipating an event.

-Respect your child’s limits when planning and scheduling activities.

-Practice wearing a costume before Halloween. Allow your child to dress up as their favorite character regardless of age. There are even pajamas that look like costumes.

-Avoid props that may cause sensory overload.

-Make fun, Halloween-themed food throughout the month.

-At parties, find a private room for your child to safely relax when overwhelmed.

-Attend drive-up or drive-through Halloween events.

-Instead of trick-or-treating, consider creating a candy/toy scavenger hunt in your house or yard, or buying a pinata to fill with allergy-friendly candy and toys, and allow your kids to break it open on Halloween.

-Play sensory games with slime, squishy brains, etc. Click here for some great ideas for sensory games.

-Make Halloween crafts to use as decorations.

For additional tips, click here.

For information on keeping your child with ASD safe, click here.

-Create innovative ways to safely hand out candy to trick-or-treaters such as a cool candy slide Here’s an example.


For children with sensory issues, many activities during this time may be additionally difficult. Below are additional accommodations that may help:

-Discuss Halloween and costumes with your child before the holiday arrives.

-Select a sensory-friendly costume and have your child wear familiar, comfortable clothing underneath. If possible, wash the costume before wearing to soften the material and remove any unfamiliar scents. Consider having your child wear a compression or weighted vest underneath.

-Have your child practice wearing their costume before the holiday and make necessary adjustments.

-Factor in time for breaks.

-Bring items that comfort your child, such as noise-cancelling headphones, ear plugs, weighted vests and comfort items.

Click here for more information.

The Teal Pumpkin Project

The goal of The Teal Pumpkin Project is to make trick-or-treating more inclusive and safer for children with food allergies. By placing a teal pumpkin on your stoop, you are letting trick-or-treaters know you have non-food treats that are safe. Read more here.


Halloween can be celebrated in a variety of ways that provide safe fun for all. A little planning and preparation can help greatly toward enjoying any holiday and Halloween is no exception. It is important to assess your family’s needs and go from there. There is no gold standard to which we must adhere in order to enjoy this holiday. Create your own way of celebrating and enjoy! Happy Halloween.


Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.

Halloween Tips for Autism Families: https://tacanow.org/family-resources/trick-or-treat/
Halloween Safety Tips: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/halloween.html
Halloween Sensory Play: https://lemonlimeadventures.com/totally-awesome-non-spooky-halloween-sensory-play-ideas-kids/
Keeping Your Kids with ASD Safe: https://tacanow.org/family-resources/keeping-your-kids-with-asd-safe/
How to Have a Safe and Sensory Friendly Halloween: https://www.myautism.org/news-features/how-to-have-a-safe-and-sensory-friendly-halloween
The Teal Pumpkin Project: https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/about-teal-pumpkin-project

Tips for Traveling With a Special Needs Child

One of the fun parts of life includes vacations and travel. Staycations, exotic trips, theme parks, beach relaxation—they all serve the same purpose: a break from our daily routines. Planning a trip can be exhausting and maintaining a schedule while away can be extra challenging. For families that include a child with special needs there are additional concerns and extra planning that must be taken into consideration.

Planning your trip

Explore transportation options based on the distance you need to travel. Are you close enough to travel by car? If your child needs specialized seating, what travel mode works best with their seating system? If air or train travel leaves you too far from emergency medical treatment, consider a closer destination that can be reached by car.

In choosing a destination, consider your child’s special needs and capabilities. Will a cruise work best for your needs and family interests? Royal Caribbean received the first “Autism Friendly” certification several years ago. Maybe city travel interests your child and can provide varied activities for all family members. National Parks provide visitors with wheelchair-accessible trails, auto tours and observation areas. And, of course, theme parks—Disney in particular—go above and beyond accommodating special needs families.

Plan your trip and choose destinations and rest stops that can accommodate your child’s needs. Even if you are traveling by car, make sure your final destination has any accessibility that is needed. It’s important—and okay—to let people know what your child needs and to expect accommodations to be made for your child.


For trips by plane, preparing your child for flying will make the transitions a bit easier. You can read about airplanes and airports, and watch videos about flying. Visiting an airport might help prepare your child for the atmosphere, and you can spend some time watching planes take off and land. Some cities create mock flights that provide children with autism a flight experience (without leaving the ground!). You can pack your bags, go to the airport, pass security, board, “fly” and deplane in preparing for an upcoming flight.

Before flying, be sure to check-in at home. You’ll avoid waiting in line at the airport and can print boarding passes at home. Remember to bring small bills with you for taxis and tips. Less fumbling and less stress! The TSA has a new helpline for travelers with special needs. Call 855-787-2227 to learn more about screening policies, procedures and security checkpoint information.

When booking flights, select seats at the front of the plane, and closer to rest rooms. Upon arrival, request wheelchair assistance and security lines, if necessary. For special needs passengers, hand searches and private screenings may be requested.

Carry-on bags are key

Plan your carry-on packing strategically. Medications should always be packed in carry-on luggage in the event of lost or delayed checked baggage. While the traditional 3-1-1 rule (https://www.tsa.gov/travel/frequently-asked-questions/what-3-1-1-liquids-rule) applies, liquid medication is one items which may be allowed in higher quantities. Check with your carrier for more information. Remember to also carry a change of clothes for your child. For children who may become stressed or anxious in new situations, bring familiar and special items from home in your carry-on bag, such as a small blanket, toys, games or music that distract or relax your child. Noise-cancelling headphones can block out noises in planes, cars and other attractions.

Special items

Be sure to review items you’ll need for bath time, bedtime and meals. Call your hotel(s) to see how they can help. Bring special items that your child(ren) require or are used to, such as a special toy, blanket or sippy cup. Be sure to make a checklist of important items and double check it before leaving each stop of your trip.

Get your doctor involved

Speak with your child’s pediatrician and ask for recommendations and tips. If you are flying, ask if there are natural supplements or medications that might help your child relax to make the flight or drive easier. Prepare a folder with information you might need in an emergency, such as:

-a list of medications your child is taking along with a copy of each prescription

-doctor’s letter with description of your child’s condition/special needs (especially for ‘invisible’ conditions such as Autism or Tourette Syndrome)

-phone numbers, email addresses of child’s doctors and specialists (this is in addition to info stored in your phone)

-recommendations for doctors and specialists in the area you are visiting

-copies of health insurance cards and phone numbers (check your health insurance before leaving; many companies require prior approval for out of town emergency room or doctor visits)

Prepare your child

To help prepare your child before your trip, discuss your itinerary and explain what your child will encounter each day. Read books and look at photos of your destination so your child can see what to expect. As important as it is to plan your days and prepare your child, keeping to your overall routine will help ease tension for a special needs child. Naps and mealtimes, when kept on schedule go a long way in maintaining balance.

With some diligent preparation and research, you’ll be able to find the right vacation for your family. And while not every trip goes as planned, the vacation time spent together as a family can be more valuable than any itinerary or tourist attraction checked off your list.

Wishing you safe travels!


Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.


Strategies for Navigating the Holidays with a Special Needs Child

The holidays are a magical time of year for children, with plans for family get-togethers, gift shopping and gift anticipation, as well as other loud, colorful activities. For children with special needs this can be an immensely stressful time of year full of many challenges at home, in school and throughout the community. The holidays are full of potential triggers for children with autism, anxiety and other special needs. By planning ahead and having alternate plans, you can help make the holiday season less stressful for your child. It is important to speak with any visiting friends and family member as well as those whose homes you will be visiting. Share with them any special behaviors, quirks or sensitivities of your child so that they may better understand your child and his (and your!) needs and expectations.

For children with anxiety, anticipation is a big trigger in the time leading up to the holidays. This feeling often leads to anxiety overload, causing them to have a melt down just before, during or after the holiday. For these children, keeping the holidays low-key helps greatly. It’s okay to treat the holiday as an important day, but not in an over-the-top crazy way. To some children, piles of wrapped presents that cannot be opened can be stressful. Keeping these gifts out of sight can help children get stressed about waiting, and possible even opening gifts too early.

At this time of year, there is always an overload of sensory stimuli such as lights, music, bells, odors, tastes, crowds, and hugging. There are strategies for each of these situations; if you can speak with your child and discuss what elements are the most stressful, you can formulate a plan. For example, if certain smells upset your child, consider getting an artificial tree and battery-operated candles. If lights are a trigger, try ones that don’t blink. Decorate tastefully, leaving plenty of space throughout the home so that it doesn’t feel overdone or overcrowded with seasonal items. Try listening to instrumental, relaxing holiday music instead of loud, “busy” music. While planning visits to the mall, try to go during less-crowded times, when your child is well-rested and not hungry.

Family visits can be especially stressful for children with autism, sensory processing disorder, or other special needs. Prepare your child for any dinners or social events in advance. Discuss who will be visiting or where you will be going. Explain that it’s okay if he doesn’t want to hug or shake hands. Let him know there will be a quiet place where he can go to relax; this can be in your home or in someone else’s home (ask your host in advance). Be sure to prepare items such as noise cancelling headphones, a weighted blanket, a stuffed animal, tablet or books. Whatever soothes your child should be available to him, either in your home or in a backpack packed for the day.

It is important to let your child know that it is okay to feel a bit ‘off’ during the hectic, crowded time of the holidays. Let him know that his normal routine will return after the dinner/visit/outing. Work with your child to be sure to get positioned in a place (a corner of someone’s living room, a separate quiet room, a seat in a house of worship such as an aisle near the exit) that offers some comfort and an exit strategy.

An important element to consider is YOUR level of stress. If you are feeling out of sorts and overwhelmed, your special needs child will likely react to your stress. It is at this time that you need to take care of you. Breathe. Take a bath. Go for a walk. Take a break and ground yourself, so that your child will relax too.

Here are some tips from A Day in Our Shoes (adayinourshoes.com) that can function as a checklist for the holidays with children with special needs:

School Holidays and the Special Needs Child

  1. Communication is key! Communicate with your child’s teacher, read the school website. Find out what changes are going to happen as best as you can. Prepare your child for these changes–different meals, assemblies, early dismissals, whatever it may be.
  2. Ask your teacher to have a one sheet” included in her sub-folder about your child. This should include the necessary information that a sub would need to know about your child and what may cause him anxiety.
  3. Have daily briefings at breakfast and dinner. It sounds formal, but it doesn’t have to be. Just talk about what is going to happen that day or what did happen that day. What will be different?
  4. Contact his therapists or whoever works with your child and ask if they can do more role-playing, scripting and/or social stories related to holiday festivities.

Holidays with a Special Needs Child at Home

  1. If you haven’t sent out holiday cards in a while (not many people do it anymore!), consider sending them to the people you will come into contact with, might be visiting or might be staying with this holiday season. This is an easy and private way to share your child’s “quirks” and expectations.
  2. Talk with your child. Find out what their expectations are and make sure everyone is on the same page. Prepare them as best you can. Again, consider the morning and evening daily briefings.
  3. Pick your battles. Food doesn’t have to be an issue. Consider bringing some healthy snacks with you to family dinners. If your child refuses to wear a shirt and tie, it’s okay!
  4. When visiting, bring things that are a comfort to your child, especially if staying overnight. A favorite blanket, pillow, and his own shampoo will go a long way in soothing a child that is not sleeping in his own bed.
  5. Don’t force affection. This is another item you can explain to friends and family before your visit. If your child does not want to embrace and kiss relatives they barely know, or do not enjoy being hugged, respect that. Explain to the relatives that your child really does care about them, but that this is not how he shows it.
  6. Have an escape signal or word. Give your child an “out” if it is more than he can handle.
  7. Go visual. Have a color-coded calendar or some other method of visually outlining what your family is doing. Consider doing it with velcro so that items can be moved and removed if you need to alter your schedules.
  8. Sensory-friendly events and Quiet Santas are very common around the holidays. These are a great opportunity to participate and be able to relax a little bit.
  9. Set your child up for success. Pre-arrange conversations with relatives so that your child is included. A simple “I heard that you really enjoyed your school field trip to the museum” might be much more engaging for your child instead of “what’s your favorite subject at school?” but a relative may not know that.

Stress, Holidays and Special Needs Moms.

  1. Remember that holidays and holiday breaks are intended to be a relaxing time and a “reset” so that you can go back to work/school rested and refreshed. Keep that in mind as you do your holiday schedule.
  2. Say no. Often. You don’t have to do everything.
  3. These are good opportunities to educate family and friends about your child’s issues. But, keep your child in mind–do not talk about them in front of them.

The bottom line is that families celebrate holidays in many ways. For families with special needs children, some additional planning may be necessary to comfortably experience this time of year. But with a lot of communication and much planning, it can truly be a magical time of year.

Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy holiday season!


Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.


What to Do if Your Child Bites

Parents of toddlers are often concerned about a common occurrence—biting. You are not alone! Most toddlers and preschoolers bite at one time or another, and it is a normal developmental occurrence. Children bite for a variety of reasons. Sometimes toddlers bite due to limited language skills or ways to express their feelings. Preschoolers may occasionally bite when they are so overly tired or frustrated and have lost control. The good new is there is much that parents and caregivers can do to reduce, and ultimately eliminate biting.

Why does my child bite?
It’s important to remember that while your child may bite, try not to label him/her as a “biter.” Labeling a child can often result in the child assuming the identity assigned to them, which would increase biting behavior.

Some reasons toddlers may bite include:
-they lack language skills necessary for expressing important needs or strong feelings such as happiness, anger or frustration. Without words to express feelings, biting can serve as a substitute (“I am very mad at you!”, “You are standing too close to me,” or “I am so excited!”)

-they are overtired

-they are teething

-they are overwhelmed by sounds, lights, or activity in a setting

-they need more active playtime

-they have a need for oral stimulation

-they are overwhelmed after intense play such as wrestling or tickling for an extended time

-they need more time to move from one activity to another

What are some solutions for biting?
Frustration/stress: watch for signs of increasing frustration; teach your child ways to show feelings appropriately and offer praise when he/she communicates appropriately

Teething: offer your child a teething biscuit, rubber teething ring or a partially frozen clean washcloth

Defense/Territorial: let your child know he/she is safe; ensure the area is not crowded, with plenty of space and toys

Attention-seeking: give your child attention when he/she is not biting, to make him/her less likely to bit for attention

Power/aggression: explain acceptable ways to interact with others; encourage positive behavior such as sharing and taking turns

How to discourage biting.
If you see your child on the verge of biting, there are strategies you can use to prevent biting:

  1. Distract your child with a book or toy. Shift your child’s attention to reduce the tension.
  2. Explain how your child can handle a situation that could lead to biting. You can say, “Johnny, it’s okay to tell Mary: ‘You are too close to me. I don’t like it when you touch my hair.’”
  3. Be sure there is ample space, equipment and toys to keep all children occupied and to minimize having to wait turns.
  4. Avoid overstimulation for a child who becomes easily frustrated. Keep groups small and make play periods shorter with less challenging activities.
  5. Teach cooperation throughout the day, demonstrating words and phrases children can use to express their desires and feelings. Praise cooperative behavior.
  6. Familiarize yourself with the child’s signals of rising frustration or anger.
  7. Teach children to share; this is a common trigger for biting. Use a kitchen timer to provide a visual reminder of how long they can play with a certain toy. In a classroom setting, be sure there is more than one of popular toys.
  8. Read books about biting. Ask your child how the characters might be feeling, and ask him/her what is happening in the pictures.

Some suggested books include:

-Teeth Are Not For Biting by Elizabeth Verdick

-No Biting by Karen Katz

-No Biting, Louise by Margie Palatini

What to do when your child bites
When a child bites, adults must intervene quickly, firmly and calmly. A child usually bites because he is out of control, which can be frightening to him. Parents and caregivers help a child the most by staying in control themselves. Reassure both the child who bit, as well as the victim. If possible, keep both children by your side as you inspect and wash the bitten area with warm, soapy water. By doing so, you demonstrate the consequences and seriousness of the behavior.

Young children may not understand that biting hurts. Make sure children understand that biting cannot be allowed and that you will stop it every time. A child who is out of control and frightened by his own behavior needs to know that adults will help take control until he/she is able to control himself.

In addition, many times when a child bites, adults pay much attention to him/her. Though it’s usually negative attention, it can still reinforce the behavior and cause it to continue rather than stop. When parents shift their attention to the child who was bitten, they communicate that biting will not result in more attention. Showing concern for the child who was bitten also teaches empathy.

When help is needed
Biting usually stops by age 3-1/2. If biting continues or increases in frequency, speak with your child’s pediatrician about the possibility of an assessment from a child development specialist.

We are available if you have any questions about your child’s development or behavior. We can be reached at 516-731-5588.


Some information shared courtesy of Children’s Home Society of California, www.chs-ca.org and www.zerotothree.org .

What You Need to Know About Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by difficulty interacting and communicating with others. Children with ASD also may engage in repetitive behaviors, which could be physical (flapping hands, jumping repetitively) or vocal (repeating videos, making repetitive sounds). Play skills are often immature and repetitive. Severity varies widely and each child on the spectrum presents with a unique array of symptoms. While all children with ASD present with some challenges in the areas of language and socialization, some may have a little or no spoken language and more challenging behaviors that interfere with learning and daily life.

ASD is often diagnosed between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Studies indicate that autism is five times more common in boys than girls, with a higher risk if a sibling is diagnosed with autism.


Some indicators of ASD may include:

-doesn’t babble/make meaningful gestures by 1 year

-does not speak one word by 16 months

-does not combine two words by 2 years

-does not respond to name

-loses language or social skills

-doesn’t play with toys appropriately

-excessively lines up toys or objects

-no pointing or showing

-does not imitate

-lack of social-emotional reciprocity (i.e. limited or no back-and-forth conversation, reduced sharing of interests/emotions, failure to initiate and respond to social interactions)

-abnormal eye contact and body language; lack of understanding and use of gestures; lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication

-difficulty in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships; absence of interest in peers

-repetitive motor movement, use of objects or speech (i.e. lining up toys, flipping objects, echolalia)

-insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines (i.e. difficulties with transitions, need to take same route or eat same food every day)


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is considered the treatment of choice for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. ABA uses these techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive changes in behavior. Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of incentive or reward, that behavior is more likely to be repeated. ABA therapy sessions often involve one-on-one interaction between the ABA provider and the child. These techniques can be used in structured situations such as the classroom as well as in everyday situations.

MKSA continues to be a leader in bringing standardized testing and ABA services to early intervention. Our agency has some of the area’s most experienced and respected diagnosticians. Experts at ruling out ASD, they use the most current testing procedures, informal observation and clinical judgment, and take the time to make sure they have a complete picture of your child.

Our psychologists have PhDs and are licensed by NY State. The Director of Behavioral Services and many of our ABA staff are NYS Licensed Behavior Analysts (LBAs) and Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). ABA team leaders and providers are all experienced special educators with years of education, training, and practical experience in developing programs, and providing individualized instruction to young children with ASD. This expertise is combined with a genuine concern for families and an understanding of the challenges they face.


An evaluation should be considered if your child demonstrates some of the following “red flags”:

– rarely looks you in the eye for more than a second or two, or seems to be avoiding eye contact

– does not respond when you call his/her name

– does not point at something he wants or to show you an object of interest

– is not beginning to imitate what you do (clapping, “so big,” blowing kisses, etc.)

– demonstrates repetitive motor movements (rocking, hand flapping, jumping), repetitive actions with toys (spinning, throwing to floor repeatedly, lining up), or repetitive vocalizations

-repeatedly vocalizes parts of TV shows, books, or previously heard conversations, often days after he heard them

-has difficulty with changes in daily routines and get inordinately upset when routines may change

– show no interest in his peers and does not observe what other children are doing

As with any concerns, always speak with your pediatrician first. MKSA is here for you, and we are available to answer your questions. If necessary, we can make appropriate referrals. For more information, call (516) 731-5588 or contact us by email.


The information provided in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not designed to be used as a substitute for information provided by medical professional, and is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any condition or situation. Always consult your child’s pediatrician for any concerns.

Some information courtesy of autismcenter.org, National Institute of Mental Health, and DSM-5 checklist