Halloween is a great time of the year for kids to play and enjoy fun events at school or at their after-school activities. However, Halloween is not always easy for those kiddos with autism. According to the Life Skills Autism Academy (locations in Plano and Fairview), the scariest part of Halloween for children with autism can be trying to understand all the different decorations and behaviors as they tend to take the literal meaning of things more often than not.
“It’s not uncommon for children with autism to sit out Halloween, at school and at home, because it’s so overwhelming,” said Kim Gorham, Clinical Director for Life Skills Autism Academy. “Scary sounds and decorations, scratchy costumes, or going out at night can be a lot to handle.” So, to prepare your child with autism for Halloween, Life Skills came up with the following eight tips.
1: Take out some startling elements of surprise.
Life Skills encourages parents to talk ahead of time about the decorations and activities to make your child aware of what it might look like. “Visit local orchards or malls where it is likely to be awash in Halloween decorations,” Life Skills says. “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 and scare visitors.”
2: Practice play increases familiarity and comfort.
Find a costume made with standard clothing or something your child already has, Life Skills suggests. “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,” they say. “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.”
Also, consider practicing trick-or-treating. For example, take a walk any evening before Halloween, and go to a house in the neighborhood to ring the doorbell, and allow your child to practice the potential trick-or-treat scenario. Or, consider taking your child to something like a trunk-or-treat for practice.
DFWChild Pro Tip: Consider getting your little one a blue bucket to carry while trick-or-treating. This bucket, thanks to a mom’s viral Facebook post back in 2019, is an indicator for others to know that the little trick-or-treater has autism. This is similar to the teal buckets that indicate the kiddo has food allergies and should be given non-food items or purple buckets that indicate epilepsy.
3: Post and remind your child of trick-or-treating rules.
Life Skills recommends breaking down the whole night into a step-by-step process with instructions. “It is an important part of helping your child appropriately set and meet expectations for enjoyment,” they say. “For example, set boundaries, such as, how to knock or ring the doorbell, say ‘trick-or-treat’ and ‘thank you,’ or ‘Happy Halloween.’”
4: Consider group adventuring.
Think about inviting a friend to go with your child on Halloween so they can help your child remember the boundaries and 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,” Life Skills says. Also, if your child tends to wander, give them light-up shoes or glow-stick necklaces or bracelets to wear for the night. They also say 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.”
5: Prepare for what-ifs as best you can.
Remember that many things happening on Halloween can be new for your child outside of the trick-or-treating portion. There could be heavier crowds, different weather, a significant break in routine—the more prepared you are, the more prepared your child will be.
6: 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,” Life Skills says. “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.”
7: Be the candy man (or woman) with a plan.
If your child has a restricted diet or food allergies, Life Skills suggests taking approved treats or other items to the homes you plan to stop by that evening. “Or you can make a deal that trick-or-treating only happens if everything collected is first approved before consumed,” Life Skills says.
8: 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,” Life Skills says. “It may be his or her own way of learning to adjust or adapt to avoid maladaptive behavior.” Think about an alternate plan if this is the case, such as a movie or going to their favorite restaurant.
The article was originally published in October 2019.
Image courtesy of Life Skills Autism Academy