Let's Talk Halloween
The spooky season of Halloween is upon us! Everywhere you can see smiling pumpkins, spider webs, and ghostly decorations on home fronts and in the stores. Candy fills the shelves. This is one of the most exciting times of the year for children!
However, for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the Halloween season can be a challenging time. There are sensory concerns from uncomfortable costumes, scary decorations and lighting, as well as peers ringing doorbells with shouts of “trick-or-treat” ringing up and down the street. The social rules of Halloween can also be difficult, and then there is the role of candy and dietary concerns. Overall, Halloween can be a chilling struggle. If you want to help your child enjoy Halloween, or at least make it more comfortable for them, start by PREPARING THEM!
Here are some helpful ideas:
Write a social story describing what your child will do on Halloween. Autism Speaks provides free story templates to help you create the perfect one. Read the story several times before the actual night so your child has time to get used to the plan. You can also read Halloween books with your child written by varying authors. You can find a nice selection at your local library.
If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to decorate your home gradually instead of all at once. Adding a decoration here and there every now and then may be easier for your child to tolerate.
Let your child practice wearing their costume at home. This gives you time to make any last minute modifications and time for your child to get used to it.
Create a visual schedule. This might include a map of where you will go. Be sure to walk the route several times before the big night.
Practice trick or treating a few times before Halloween. Visit friends and family, and provide neighbors with treats to give if there are any dietary restrictions. Make written cards or a sign for your non verbal child to give or hold up when requesting a treat and to say thank you.
Use role play to practice receiving and giving treats and set clear expectations on the amount of treats your child will be able to have.
Pack a bag with earmuffs/noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, favorite small toys, a flashlight, and comforting items to have available should your child become over stimulated by sounds, lights, movements, etc.
Keep trick or treating short and comfortable. Don’t expect your child to walk the entire path you practiced. Keep in mind that when you were practicing, there were fewer people, noises, lights, etc. Consider letting siblings (that might want to go longer) continue trick or treating with a friend.
If your child isn’t interested in trick or treating, try having them pass out the candy.
Remember, Halloween looks different for every child on the spectrum and you know your child best. Use your intuition and if you only make it to three houses, if you don’t even leave the house, or if you just have to turn off those porch lights... that’s perfectly okay!