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Let's Talk About Hyperfocus

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Recently, I was talking with a friend of mine who, like me, is a highly sensitive person (HSP). She described to me an interesting experience she was having and wondered if I might be able to relate to it. She’d recently become interested in the Broadway musical “Pippin,” and it was becoming something of an obsession to her. She was spending quite a bit of her free time watching videos of the current tour and reading up on the actors in the cast, and was finding it difficult to pull herself away from it when she had to divert her attention to something else. She asked me if I’d ever experienced anything like that before.

As an HSP with ADD and anxiety, I was no stranger to what my friend was describing. I had experienced it many times before but never really talked about it or put a name to it. The phenomenon is called hyperfocus, and it’s pretty common among HSPs, people on the autism spectrum, and people with ADD/ADHD, OCD, and bipolar disorder. It’s a state of intense, single-minded concentration on one particular thing, to the point that you might become oblivious to everything else around you. You might lose track of time, or forget about chores, deadlines, and other obligations because you are so focused on this one thing.

I wondered: If hyperfocus is so common, why is this the first time my friend and I are talking about our experiences with it? We aren’t exactly shy when it comes to talking about mental illness – my friend is even a graduate student in psychology. I’m lucky enough to have several friends who understand the importance of mental health and actively work to end stigmas and normalize talking about mental illness, and my friends and I have openly discussed a wide variety of mental health topics, but for some reason, hyperfocus has never really been one of them. I decided to open up the conversation by asking people about their experiences with hyperfocus and what it felt like to them. My friends had a lot to say on the subject.

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“I’m a distance runner, and I have ADHD, and the best analogy I can think of to describe it is that it’s like a runner’s high. Usually, focusing is really hard and just gets harder the longer you have to do it, but when you hyperfocus, it’s like you get into this head space where all of the distractions just go away and you just want to focus more and more because it feels good.  You’re not even aware of the mental energy you’re using to focus, so when your hyperfocus ends, you feel kind of exhausted and groggy and like you need a nap, but you don’t really know why.”

I was mid-manic episode when I was 15 and I counted all of the pine needles on a pine tree.”

“I can’t really control it; it just sort of happens. Sometimes it happens in ways that help me, like when I’m really focused on writing a paper, but most of the time it happens in ways that really don’t help me, and I just end up wasting lots of time.”

“When I’m hyperfocused on something, pulling myself away to pay attention to something else makes me feel just like agitated and empty, and I just want to go back to what I was focusing on before.”

What stuck out to me most was the fact that even though all of my friends had very different descriptions of their own experiences with hyperfocus, I could relate completely to all of them. My friends were all different – not just from each other, but from me: different ages, different backgrounds, different mental health struggles. Yet when they described their experiences with hyperfocus, I just thought, oh, yeah, I’ve been there before. I’ve been so focused on something that it almost felt like a high. I’ve found myself engrossed in counting, listing, and other repetitive behaviors and feeling the need to see them through to completion. I’ve experienced hyperfocus at work that made me extremely productive, as well as hyperfocus that’s caused me to spend an entire afternoon on Wikipedia. I’ve struggled to shift my focus to other things. I asked my friends why they thought they experienced hyperfocus, and if they could think of anything specific that caused it.

“I have ADD and bipolar disorder, and I experience most of my hyperfocus when I’m depersonalizing or while manic.”

“I know I hyperfocus because I have ADHD, but I also have OCD, so I sometimes feel like I just can’t leave something undone or unfinished, and usually that’s when I hyperfocus.”

“I think it’s kind of a coping mechanism for me as a highly sensitive person. Hyperfocus is almost like an escape when I’m experiencing sensory overload or just getting really overwhelmed.”

Hyperfocus as an escape really resonated with me. Thinking about my own experience with hyperfocus, I realized I, too, often used it as an escape, although I wasn’t always aware of it at the time. Sometimes I used it to escape sensory overload as a highly sensitive person, but mostly I use it when things are getting to be “too much” for me as someone with ADD. Like a lot of people with ADD, I really, really struggle with working memory and multitasking – I find it incredibly difficult to keep multiple things in my brain at one time. If I remember to pay bills, I might forget to clean my apartment, buy dog food, or call someone on their birthday because I just have an incredibly hard time splitting my attention between multiple things. When I hyperfocus, all the other things just seem to go away. There is no “back of my mind.” There is no “next on my to-do list.” There’s just me and whatever I happen to be absorbed in at the moment, and I think allowing my brain to be fully absorbed in one thing and one thing only for a little while gives it a much needed break.

On the other hand, my friend told me that her hyperfocus on “Pippin” was making her feel even more anxious and overwhelmed. She’d been unable to focus in class and was having a lot of anxiety over her newfound obsession. Hyperfocus, I guess, is kind of a double-edged sword. It can give you an escape or help you get things done, but it can also cause harm to your mental health or make you forget about other things you need to do. I asked my friends if hyperfocus had ever had a negative impact on their lives, relationships, or responsibilities.

“Mostly it just affects my sleep, because I tend to get hyperfocused in the evening when I’m just relaxing before bed, and I get really absorbed in reading a book or watching Netflix or surfing the internet, and then all of a sudden I look at the clock and it’s 4 a.m.”

“It definitely causes some tension between me and my boyfriend. I think he’s really trying to understand, but sometimes he just doesn’t get that this is how my mind works.”

“Now that I’m in college I have to stay really on top of deadlines and hyperfocus because I don’t have anyone helping me stay focused on school and reminding me when things are due.”

My friends also had some tips for dealing with hyperfocus. Setting alarms can help you keep track of the time you spend in hyperfocus mode, and having a friend or family member call you or knock on your door might make coming out of hyperfocus a little easier. If you can find ways to channel your hyperfocus into work or school, it can become a kind of superpower instead of something to struggle with. If you are someone who experiences hyperfocus, these tips might help you deal with it better, but I found that just acknowledging that it happens and talking to other people who experience it made me feel a lot better. “Just talking about it” is a pretty tried and true method for alleviating some of the burden of so many other mental health symptoms, so why shouldn’t hyperfocus be one of them? Let’s add it to the list of mental health topics we discuss. Let’s talk about hyperfocus.

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To the Woman Who Wrote the Article 'Date Someone Who Treats You Like Shit'

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Editor’s note: The following includes language around abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence,  you can the National Domestic Violence Hotline at  1-800-799-7233.

To the woman who wrote the article “Date Someone Who Treats You Like Shit,”

You are wrong. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and try to believe that this is some sort of satire, but I know deep down that isn’t the case. This isn’t some sort of twisted joke. This is real. You seem to believe this, and you want others to believe it as well.

Yes, people will hurt you. Yes, oftentimes you will be treated as less than you deserve. You will find this in the workplace. You will find this with your family. You will find this with your friends. You will even find this with your significant other. We are all humans, we all fail. We have all hurt someone by treating them as less than we should have, and we will all be hurt by someone who will treat us as less than we deserve.

But to encourage people to actively seek out this hurt, to actively seek out the individuals who will “treat you like shit,” who will ignore you and put you last and not care for you and never understand you — this advice is absolutely ludicrous. To actually and honestly encourage readers to look for the people who will hurt them, and then to fall in love with these people, only to be brokenhearted in the end is hands down one of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever heard in my entire life. And I’ve heard some really bad advice.

As someone who comes from an abusive background, I have to assume the author of this article has never experienced abuse. I have to assume the author of this article has never experienced the pain that comes from believing the lies your significant other (the one who treats you like shit) tells you. It leaves a hole in your soul – believing these lies.

Getting rid of these lies is a battle that doesn’t end when the relationship does. It is a battle that follows you… to your new school, to your new friends, to your new relationships. These lies constantly whisper at you. They constantly try to bring you back into their embrace. They constantly try to break you over and over again. The survivor of abuse doesn’t escape the abuse immediately after escaping the abuser. Their mind can become its own abuser.

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As someone who has survived abuse I am here to tell you that you are wrong. You should never encourage an individual to willingly fall in love with someone they know will devastate them. You should never encourage an individual to enter into an abusive relationship for the opportunity to grow. Yes, abusive situations can make people stronger. Yes, abusive situations can allow an individual to learn things about themselves that they previously didn’t know. But, there is nothing one can gain from an abusive relationship that they cannot gain elsewhere. There is nothing abuse has taught me about myself or about the world around me that I couldn’t have learned through another means, another life experience. There is no amount of strength, no amount of self-worth, no amount of value or pride or bravery I could not have learned elsewhere.

And there is not a single lesson I have learned that allows me to deem the abuse I’ve experienced as “worth it.”

I am grateful I was lucky enough to escape my abuse and start to put it behind me. I am grateful I was lucky enough to find life lessons amidst the pain. But let me make something clear to you: if I could change my history of abuse, I would. I would never willingly live through what I did to gain some sort of knowledge or self-clarity on the other side. I’ve yet to meet a person who has honestly told me if they could re-live their life over, they would still “date someone who treats them like shit.” Every single person I know who has survived abuse has survived to tell me their goal is to do everything they can to avoid the people who have treated them like shit and to do everything they can to be sure others avoid them just the same.

Value and worth are not things that can only be learned when they are stripped away from you. Someone will not only ever learn of their worth through this wrenching heartbreak and emotional, verbal, and even physical abuse you describe. It is entirely possible to come to learn of this value through healthy means. It is entirely possible to come to learn of this value through healthy friendships and relationships. It is entirely possible to come to learn of this value through self-discovery. It is entirely possible to learn of this value throughout one’s lifetime.

This is the experience we should be pushing people toward.

We should be pushing people toward learning their value and their worth through healthy means, be it family ties, friendships, a career, therapy, the development of a hobby or skill. These are the types of experiences we should be striving for, and pushing others to strive for. There is absolutely nothing that can be gained through an abusive situation that cannot be gained elsewhere. To push someone toward abuse for the sense of value that may follow is not only ignorant, it is dangerous.

As someone who has experienced abuse, I can tell you it leaves scars. I still have nightmares, six years later. I still cannot trust. I still experience severe anxiety when I see someone who remotely resembles my abuser. I still fear going home because of the possibility of running into him. I still catch myself bracing for a blow – physical or emotional – when I get into an argument with my current boyfriend, despite that blow never coming. I still fall into depression around significant dates of abuse. I still struggle daily with the trauma of what I’ve experienced. Some days are better than others. Some days are really bad. But I did not at all need to endure the abuse I did, I never needed to “date someone who treated me like shit” to find my true value or find someone I deserved. I could have found him without the ex who treated me like shit. I could have learned to truly love myself, I could have learned just how much I’m worth, without this abusive relationship tainting my past.

Push people toward health, not brokenness. Push people toward success, not pain. Push people toward love, not harm. Push people toward what they deserve, not toward what they don’t. This is what will help people realize their true value. This support and guidance and encouragement are what will allow people to see their worth. Abuse is called abuse for a reason – its results are often anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide, physical and mental harm. The results of abuse are real traumas, real disorders, real illnesses. The main result of abuse is not growth. And we should never push someone toward abuse because of the possibility of growth on the other side.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence,  you can the National Domestic Violence Hotline at  1-800-799-7233. If you need to you can also visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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If Someone Has Made You Believe You Are Unworthy of Love, Please Read This

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I am no stranger to awful relationships. From the guy who forgets anniversaries, to the guy who spreads lies and starts rumors because he was broken up with. As a result, over the years I’ve had some pretty terrible things said to me.

These are some of the milder of the negative things I have been told by people I’ve been in relationships with:

  • Being with me was like buying a used car before checking under the hood. (In reference to opening up about my disabilities.)
  • I am only good for [insert pretty much anything here].
  • I’m cute for a fat girl.
  • I’m cute for a girl with disabilities.
  • If I ever weigh over 250lbs, he will leave me.
  • The way I dress, dye my hair, wear my makeup is obviously for attention.
  • I’m not allowed to wear [insert article of clothing].
  • I’m not allowed to talk to [insert person here].
  • I am not worth the trouble.
  • I am too stupid to go to college or get a job.
  • I am too stupid to realize I was being cheated on.
  • I will never become successful.
  • I am a drama queen. (In response to pain due to my chronic illnesses.)
  • My [insert body part] is ugly.
  • “I can do better than you.”
  • “You’re smart, but I wish you were pretty too.”
  • “I wish you were more like my ex.”
  • I’m a good “second choice” or “backup girl.”
  • I am only good for making others jealous.
  • “You should be happy I even wanted to be with you, no one else would.”
  • I am too damaged to be loved.

And finally,

“This is the best you’ll ever get.”

That last one is the biggest lie anyone can ever tell you. I am sharing all this with you because, someone out there needs to hear this:

I don’t care who you are or what mistakes you have made in life.

You are worth so much more than someone who would ever say or do any of this to you. You are beautiful. You are worth love. Do not allow let the ugliness of these words darken your heart or conquer your self-esteem.

You are worthy of being treated kindly.

I wish so much that I had someone back then to tell me all these things weren’t true. Please, let me be that person for you. If you are involved with someone like this, please, as soon as you are able, get out. Remove yourself from the situation. You can do better. You need to do better.

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I still struggle with this every day. There are times I hear someone tell me I’m beautiful, I am kind, I am worthy of love, and I can’t believe them because the memories are too loud. Self-love is the answer. Learn to love yourself and learn to distinguish the lies from the truth. Elevate yourself.

You are not perfect, you never will be. That is OK. That doesn’t mean you are unworthy of love.

You may make mistakes. You do not deserve to be torn down for them. A gentle, loving nudge – a suggestion something may be wrong that comes from a place of genuine concern is all that is necessary from someone who loves you. There is a massive difference between someone lovingly, gently, critiquing you and completely tearing you to shreds.

You deserve to be loved for who you are. Flaws and all. Any corrections to yourself you feel need to be made should come from a desire to better yourself, for yourself. Don’t ever let other people make you feel like you aren’t good enough.

It isn’t easy. But trust me, do it.

It will sometimes feel like a lie… but do it. Scream at yourself that you are worth it every day in the mirror if you have to. Write “I AM BEAUTIFUL” on a piece of paper a thousand times if it helps you remember. Do it all until you start to believe it is real. Love yourself, treat your body like the amazing temple it is. Nourish it along with your mind, heart, and soul. Find your happiness in yourself and seek no reassurance elsewhere.

You deserve love. Even if you are the only person who tells you that, believe it.

We are all deserving of love, despite our abilities, how we look, what we wear, the mistakes we’ve made, or how we choose to cope with our existence. Let no one convince you otherwise.

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I’m Not ‘Brave’ for Being the Parent of Children With Special Needs

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Parenting is tough. It is difficult. I had a realization last week when talking to someone about an idea I have for my next tattoo. I already have three, but my greatest one is yet to come. I plan to get a Superman symbol on my arm with a puzzle piece with a hint of green. Autism and mental health will be represented on my arm with my children’s birth dates. “Why would you do that?” I was asked. My response was simple: “I have two children on the autism spectrum and one child with a mental health disorder. All three of my children have a diagnosis.” This statement is matter of fact to me at this point in time.

The person I was talking to was speechless for a moment, and then he realized that my children are living in a single-parent household as well. The questions came: “How, what, why?” Then the accolades. Yes, I’m a single parent raising three children with differing diagnoses, but I’m a parent raising my children.

Yes, I am an advocate and always will be. I was an advocate at a young age, and I didn’t realize why at that time. I believe God was preparing me to be the parent I needed to be for my children.

As they have aged, we still have issues with behavior, but not like we used to have. They have challenges with school sometimes, but we are a family and face them together. That’s it. I’m not saying their conditions do not affect how we approach situations. It totally changes how I approach behavior issues, arguments, sadness, anger, and the gambit of emotions that exist in my household with two teenagers and one preteen. I do admit that it changes my approach in how I conduct my day. I am more aware of those around me, the moods I am in after a rough morning, and that everyone fights their own battle. However, I am not brave for raising my children.

No parent wants to go out into the world and constantly be bombarded with, “You are so brave,” for doing what you know you have to do. You are a parent. Your child is not their diagnosis; they are a child. They want to be loved and understood just like everyone else. As a parent, I want to be known and appreciated as a person first and my skill set second.

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We have lived for 11 years now since the first diagnosis. We have struggled and worked to get to where we are. We are a family. Just like any family, we support one another. I’m not brave for being a single parent. I’m not brave for having children with special needs. I’m brave for having signed on the dotted line to serve and die for my country. I’m brave for continuing to support and defend others. I am brave because I continue to strive for greatness. I’m not brave for being a parent to my children.

Dear people who think we, parents of children with special needs, are brave — look at the definition and synonyms of bravery, courageous behavior or character; courage, valor, intrepidity, nerve, daring, fearlessness, audacity, boldness, dauntlessness, stoutheartedness, and heroism. I’m none of those for giving birth to and raising my children. I’m just another mom facing a different set of circumstances.

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A Peek Into Our Mornings With Complex Medical Needs

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Recently, we had a shift in nurses, and the one who filled all of our daytime hours went down to minimal part-time. I know this will be a constant occurrence in our lives. There will always be changes. It’s very, very awkward and sometimes difficult to get used to someone being in our home. We have the mild comfort of knowing they passed a background check and have some medical knowledge, but they are still a stranger, and we are forced to be professional in our own home, which is extremely difficult when I am beyond exhausted and have already answered far too many medical questions for the day.

During this shift in our nurses, we were without any daytime nursing help for the better part of two weeks. The way our home works is, I stay home and take care of keeping up the house, appointments and taking care of the kids. My husband works out of the home; he works second shift, evening hours. When he’s done, he comes home and helps me. Our work is never over. When we don’t have a night nurse, we don’t really sleep. We take shifts. If I had to estimate, I would say my husband and I sleep in the same bed three nights a week, and for only about four or five hours.

We have Jacob, who is almost 6. He uses a wheelchair. He has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He is also dependent on a trach and a g/j-tube. He uses a ventilator when he sleeps for breathing support. And then we have Elsa. She’s 2. I think that explains enough. Have you ever met a 2-year-old?

Jacob uses a ventilator for bi-PAP support when he sleeps. This means he needs eyes on him all the time. When Jacob needs to be admitted to the hospital, he goes to the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). When you think about it, that means we run an intensive care unit in our home every day.

So, I thought I would share how a typical morning goes at our house:

9 a.m. Jacob is alert and awake and does not need oxygen this morning, so I disconnect his vent from his trach tube and turn off the Trilogy ventilator. I replace the vent with an HME (Humidity and Moisture Exchanger). Our mouths and noses make humidity for us, trach tubes don’t do it on their own, so this protects Jacob’s lungs while giving him the humidity he needs.

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sister playing with brother 10:00 a.m. Time for morning routines to begin. First, I collect the six medications he will be getting this morning. I also grab a large syringe to fill with water to flush his meds through his feeding tube. Six meds and 40mL of water is too much to put through his j-tube at once, I give three meds and 20mL of the water through the medication port on his feeding tube.

10:05 a.m. I slide his wrap vest under his back, make sure it’s snug and connect the tubing to his vest machine. I push the proper buttons, and the machine begins to shake Jacob. It shakes up his lungs for 10 minutes — this prevents anything from settling in his lungs. After this, I prepare a nebulizer treatment. I step to the other side of Jacob’s bed and connect the nebulizer cup to his ventilator tubing. I turn on the vent, heater pot, and nebulizer machine and reconnect it to Jacob’s trach.

After some time, we have perfected what we do and how we do it for Jacob. Strict routine has proven to be the best method. There are times when we wait to do certain things if he’s sleeping or we have an appointment. But, we always try our best to follow this process.

I should also note that each of us who care for Jacob have our own way of doing his routines. They are all very similar, but Dad might brush his teeth before doing trach cares, when Mom does it the other way. While keeping Jacob safe, we try to remember it’s OK to put love in everything… our home is not a hospital.

10:15 a.m. The vest has finished its cycle and so has the neb, so I slide the vest off and disconnect and turn off all the machines. Now it’s time for cough assist. The cough assist machine also connects to his trach. This machine simulates the dramatic inhale and exhale of a cough. You and I cough all day long and don’t realize it. We constantly use our lungs to capacity. Jacob’s low muscle tone doesn’t let him do that, so we do it for him. I turn on the machine, connect it to Jacob’s trach, and push “therapy.” It goes inhale, exhale, break, inhale, exhale, break; I count five cycles, then pause the machine and disconnect it from Jacob’s trach. We do this process twice on days he is well.

10:20 a.m. I give Jacob two puffs of his inhaler. We use a chamber, I puff it into the chamber, and he can use as many breaths as he needs to get the medicine out. Sometimes, he will suck in a big breath, but today I count a few before giving the second puff.

10:25 a.m. I give Jacob the other three meds and remaining water through his j-tube.

10:30 a.m. I set up a station with two Dixie cups, one with acetic acid (vinegar) and one with sterile water. I open cotton-tipped applicators and place four in each cup. I locate a 2×2 split gauze and a clean or new trach tie. I’m ready to do trach cares. I use one of Jake’s plush Ninja Turtles under his neck to rock his head back a little and remove the old gauze. I take the cotton-tipped applicators and clean, then rinse, around his trach. I use a gauze to dab the area dry, then tuck another neatly around his trach tube. I unfasten his current trach tie and replace it, one side at a time, very careful not to pull his trach out. I lift his shoulders and tuck him into my chest to free my hands and fasten the trach ties at the back of his neck. He always wiggles; he thinks it’s funny. We’ve been working on “hugs” this way. Sometimes, we have to adjust the ties a few times to get it just right.

10:40 a.m. I put some mildly minty mouthwash (say that three times fast!) into another Dixie cup. I take his toothbrush and tongue scraper and dip them into it and brush his teeth, then clean his tongue. He understands and opens his mouth to make it easier, unless he wants to be a stinker that day. He usually has his mouth open which makes the flora of his mouth very different from most. We have found this routine works really well for him if we do it twice every day.

10:45 a.m. Get dressed and ready for the day!

After this is a little clean up, the trach care station, putting the used syringes in their container to be washed and used again, washing his toothbrush and tongue scraper, etc. All in all, it takes about an hour.

This is when Jacob is well. When he is ill, this routine extends with more breathing treatments and nebulizers. And we do it all four times daily instead of two. Sick routines are nothing short of exhausting when we do it on our own.

This is our routine, Jacob’s unique morning practice that works perfectly, just for him. We do it at 10 because my husband and I have never been morning people. Jacob gets doses of meds seven times per day; sometimes there are many medications, sometimes just one or two.

When we don’t have a nurse, this is our responsibility, but, one of us needs to work. That responsibility falls on my husband, and this one usually falls on me. Not because it’s the traditional way to do things, but because it financially works best for us. Don’t get me wrong, he does it on his own quite often also. I always make sure to have my coffee in by meds time, because, don’t forget…. we also have a 2-year-old!

Editor’s note: This is based off an individual’s experience and should not be taken as medical advice. Please see a doctor before starting any type of medical routine.

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How to Make Halloween More Inclusive for Children With Special Needs

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A few years ago I was coordinating a party for my child’s fourth grade classroom, where 20 percent of the students had food allergies. I gently reminded parents that the goal was for all our children to be included, to be safe and have fun. I was perplexed when one parent refused to change the cookie decorating idea she had. “Kids who can’t make or eat them can at least enjoy them for how cute they are,” she said.

In what I believed was a teachable moment, I reminded her that it still excluded them and also created a potentially dangerous situation. This parent became so incensed that she quit the committee. While I still get as excited about Halloween as the next guy, I was horrified that there was a parent who was willing to not only exclude children, but risk their safety because she was so excited about her adorable witch hat cookie project.

Halloween has become the holiday where children with differences have the potential to be the most left out. The numbers of children with food allergies and other differences have risen sharply since I was a child. As a parent of kids with food issues and also autism, it took me many years to figure out ways to adapt the holiday so it was still fun. Turns out, there are lots of ways to do this both as parents and as community members. Here are some of the top ideas to make Halloween still the coolest holiday ever.

Food Allergies

a) Parents: Sort out the candy together so you can help teach your child what is OK to eat. Have the “Switch Witch” visit later that night and exchange the bag of candy full of offending allergens with a present. Your child will be thrilled to have the best of both worlds. And hey, there is no rule that says the Switch Witch can’t give you that bag to stash away and secretly eat after the kids are asleep.

b) Supporters: The Teal Pumpkin project is a new idea sweeping through social media. If you paint a pumpkin teal and have it on your front porch, it will alert parents of kids with food allergies that you have an alternative available. Also, for class parties, ask about allergens — be sure to ask about brand specifics and preparation as that can all play a role in safety. Please remember what it would be like to be 8 years old and everyone gets to eat really cool-looking cupcakes except you.

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Sensory Differences

a) Parents: Respect your child’s sensory difference. If noise is an issue, avoid those homes that go all out for Halloween; a “jump scare” could end an evening of fun. Costumes are not always made out of the finest of materials; let your child try a number of options until one feels right. Contact your local support groups for special needs — there may be sensitive Trunk or Treat nights available which may suit your child much better.

b) Supporters: Teachers and room parents — if you have children with special needs in your class, tone down the scary a bit. Spooky music should not be on full blast, and 25 kids in costume might be disorienting. Avoid balloon-popping activities and strobe lights. Have a quiet space outside of the classroom where children can go if overwhelmed.

Autism

a) Create visuals to help your child understand what to expect at school parties or trick-or-treat. Try on the costume ahead of time. If your child does not want to participate in Halloween festivities, don’t force them. Other options include throwing a small party at your house with old school fun, inviting two or three friends for trick-or-treating, sticking to familiar neighbors homes and buddying up with a child who can model.

b) Supporters: If a child does not say “trick-or-treat” or “thank you” he may not intend to be rude. He may not be able to speak or fully understand what is expected of him. The same goes for a child who appears too large or too old for trick-or-treating. If a child grabs a handful of candy or doesn’t seem to know what to do when you hold the bowl out, give them a prompt or offer to help them. Their fine motor skills may be impaired, and picking one or two candies from a dish might be difficult. Compliment an aspect of their costume even if it seems incomplete. This is still their Halloween too!

Those of us who try to make our kids with differences feel included no matter what can get very good at scooping up the world around us, tying it in a different bow and re-presenting it to our kids. Halloween is no different. With the help of our community, little changes can make all the difference between Halloween being fun or being truly scary.

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