Halloween is one of the most universally celebrated holidays in the US. Each year, children plan costumes and enjoy fun, fall-themed activities at school and at organizations throughout their communities. However, Halloween isn’t easy for every child. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often struggle with social skills and communication issues that prevent them from participating in events.
Through the eyes of a child with autism—often someone who doesn’t easily grasp make-believe, but instead takes the literal meaning and purpose of things—the scariest part of Halloween can be trying to understand the odd decorations, behaviors, and customs.
“We want everyone to participate and enjoy Halloween, but for a child with Autism, this can sometimes be a scary and overwhelming experience,” said James Macon, BCBA and Executive Clinical Director for Centria Autism. “Scary sounds and decorations, scratchy costumes, or going out at night can be a lot to handle. Spending a little prep time can go a long way. Fewer surprises help make it more fun for everyone.”
To help a child with autism prepare for Halloween, you can follow these tips:
Tip one: take out some startling elements of surprise
Talk ahead of time about the possibilities of decorations and activities using visual stories, pictures, videos of kids trick-or-treating, etc. to make your child aware of what it could look like.
Visit local orchards or malls where it is likely to be awash in Halloween decorations. If you plan to trick-or-treat, request on your neighborhood social network site any notices of any homes that expect to play scary music or sounds or have mechanical or lit-up decorations meant to jump out or scare visitors.
Tip two: practice play increases familiarity, comfort
For a child with sensory issues, costumes can be itchy, too loose, too tight, or can cause your child to be too hot or not warm enough. If your child even allows a mask or makeup, it can be sticky, or smell and feel oddly uncomfortable. It may be better for all involved if you suggest a costume made with standard clothing your child may already have, such as a standard black sweatshirt decorated with a squeeze bottle full of glow-in-the-dark glue.
Take as much time as possible in advance to have your child try on, confirm, and wear the costume they choose to ensure as much certainty and comfort as possible. The more time you allow before the big night, the more time you’ll have to wear it and change it, if needed, to a second choice you might consider having on hand.
With advance notice and a willing participatory friend or neighbor, take a walk any evening before and practice going to a house in the neighborhood to ring the doorbell and playout the possible scene.
Take your child to an activity geared towards Halloween, like a trunk-or-treat if your local schools or shopping centers have them.
Tip three: Post and remind child of trick-or-treating rules
Break down the evening into step-by-step instructions or recommendations on how to enjoy the festivities. It is an important part of helping your child appropriately set and meet expectations for enjoyment. For example, set boundaries, such as, how to knock or ring the doorbell, say “trick-or-treat” and “thank you,” or “Happy Halloween.” But set boundaries on only taking one treat, while understanding it is not an invitation to go into the house or take more than what is offered.
Tip Four: Consider group adventuring
Inviting a neurotypical buddy to pair up with your child can help your child remember the trick-or-treating rules. That buddy can also be another set of eyes on your child considering the dark night and crowd of masquerading candy hunters will be a distraction. To assist, if your child tends to elope, insist on him or her wearing light-up shoes and glow-stick necklaces or bracelets. It helps to go with a group, especially if you have other children who may want to stay with other chaperones if your child with autism wants to go home earlier than the others.
Tip Five: prepare for what-ifs as best you can
Remember this evening is new in many ways even if your child has done it before. Weather can pose new experiences. The night of the week can present more or less crowds. The evening events themselves are significant breaks in routine, which can present its own challenges to prepare for. What if no one is home at a house your child walks to? Or, what if there are no more treats at a door that still has it’s lights on?
Tip Six: Ready yourself for rigidity
All year we teach our kids to not take anything from a stranger and yet, on Halloween, we celebrate breaking that same rule. Since kiddos with autism are typically rigid rule-followers, inviting such rule infraction will not only be confusing but be forewarned, it may result in some reduction in our credibility as parents. Be prepared for this as best you can with the standard explanation of exceptions to rules and “only when I say it’s okay”.
Tip Seven: Be the candy man (or woman) with a plan
To make the experience more typical for your child with a restricted diet or food allergies, you could drop off approved treats or small toys to the homes you intend on visiting so that he or she has the full typical experience. Or you can make a deal that trick-or-treating only happens if everything collected is first approved before consumed.
Tip Eight: Recognize limits and fear factors
If your child is not interested in participating in this Halloween’s adventures for whatever reason, don’t push it. It may be his own way of learning to adjust or adapt to avoid maladaptive behavior. But also recognize that if your child elects to stay home, they still may be overwhelmed by the repeated knocking at your door or the doorbell ringing. So consider allowing your child an alternative plan like going to a movie, a favorite store, or restaurant during peak trick-or-treating
● 1 in 59 children have autism
● Centria Autism helps parents of children with autism navigate through the complex system of insurance, care and just knowing that they are not alone.
● Centria operates in 11 states and employs over 3,500 experienced and trained staff and services thousands of children.
About Centria Autism:
Centria Autism, an operating division of Centria Healthcare, is a leading national provider of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for children with autism and their families. With its national headquarters in Michigan, and more than 3,500 clinical staff working in 11 states, Centria’s Optimal Outcomes approach combines child-centered, evidence-based ABA with best practices to help children with ASD have the best developmental experience possible and acquire the skills to live independently and succeed in the world on their own terms.
For more information, please visit http://www.centriaautism.com