It’s easy for children with Autism to get lost and left out of many holiday traditions, but especially halloween. There is not only a social component of having to understand social cues and speak, but also a sensory one in wearing a costume that may be mentally wanted by the child, but physically uncomfortable. There are often loud noises and/or bright lights during Halloween whether they be at parties or decoration on houses. These can invoke more fear and stress. Dietary restrictions can come into play, not just for children with Autism, and make the separation of receiving candy and having fun with peers an even wider gap.
However, just because your child, or a child you know, has Autism, doesn’t meant that they cannot successfully and happily engage in the tradition that many other children do. There just may need to be some modifications, extra preparation, and overall patience on everyone’s part.
When getting ready for Halloween, children in general, but especially children on the spectrum, benefit from advanced notice and planning so that they are aware of expectations and events. This helps decrease anxiety by preparing a child to know what is an appropriate reaction to events beforehand instead of having to figure it out in the moment.
5 Tips for BEFORE Halloween
- Find and read some social stories about what Halloween may be like for your child. You can even prompt your child to draw and make a story themselves about what they will be doing on Halloween. This eliminates the surprise of what Halloween is and reveals the expectation of events leading to a decrease in stress for you and your child.
- Have your child try on their costume BEFORE Halloween. Make sure it fits comfortably so as not to add unnecessary distress on the day of their fun. It can also be helpful to have your child try on their costume multiple times and for extended periods of time so that they become more accustomed to it if they feel a little uncomfortable in it initially.
- If your child doesn’t like their costume, don’t make them wear it. Talk about the situation with them and see what it is that they don’t like or makes them feel uncomfortable. Modify the costume so that they can wear it over their clothes. Consider something simple such as butterfly wings or even a hat so that they still have the opportunity to dress up just like other children.
- If your child has food allergies or sensitivities, talk about this with your child and come up with an alternative plan for receiving treats. Visit neighbors houses and give them candy that can be given only to your child. Make your own candies or treat and let your child trick or treat normally, then give them their candy in a separate basket/bucket. Or, let neighbors know the candy isn’t necessary and give your child their treat instead.
- PRACTICE! Walk the route you plan on taking. Practice going up to a neighbors house (if possible) and ring the bell/knock on the door and say trick or treat and receiving candy (or what your alternative plan is for treats). Let your child know that there will be more children out, and possibly more children at one door at a time and decide if you want to wait for space to go up alone or go up with a group.
3 Tips for the Day of Halloween
- Recognize a child’s limits. There is no need to push your child to visit a certain number of houses or to be out for a certain amount of time. Even when you practice, your child may feel differently the day of. Give positive reinforcement for any number of houses your child visits, even if it’s only two or three, and see if you can increase next year.
- Choose an alternative to trick or treating. Visit a community or neighborhood party. Include people your child is already familiar and comfortable with like close friends and family. Plan on activities within your own home if your child is afraid to go out at night. It’s good to also have a back up plan if the day of your child becomes too nervous or afraid.
- Allow your child to give out candy at your own home. Staying inside can decrease anxiety, and your child is able to practice giving out candy and helping while still wearing their costume and participating in the traditions.
Halloween is going to be unique this year no matter what. The physical safety of everyone is of the utmost importance. Please be sure to take all necessary precautions against COVID-19 regardless of if you are going house to house, a halloween party, walking through the mall, etc.