Jack-o-lanterns, spooky decorations, and store shelves lined with candy must mean Halloween is here again! Adults and children alike delight in the sense of community this holiday brings.
But as a parent of a child with autism, it can be a time of heightened stress and worry. Figuring out how to ensure an autism-friendly Halloween for your son or daughter could seem daunting. Sensory overload, late nights, itchy costumes, and crowds are a few examples of how this holiday can pose significant challenges.
However, don’t assume autism and Halloween simply don’t go together. You can take steps to ensure a smooth and enjoyable night for all! Planning ahead and respecting your child’s unique needs will ensure a delightful Halloween celebration.
Here Are 8 Halloween Tips for a Boo-tifully Fun Time
1. Be Proactive
As an experienced parent of a child with autism, you know it’s best to be open and honest with your child and to keep them in a routine as much as possible. Talk with them about the holiday in the weeks leading up to Halloween. School, neighborhood, and family life will have varying ‘spooky’ activities you can discuss with your son or daughter.
Part of keeping to a routine is appropriate planning. When heading to a party, ask the host about the details. Suggest or bring along activities and food that your child enjoys.
Realistic expectations are essential for an autism-friendly Halloween. Discuss beforehand what could vary a little if your child doesn’t do well with change. You know your child best, and respecting their limits will help foster their positive behavior. You can even carry with you a visual schedule of the evening’s events (see tip #2.)
2. Use Visuals to Prepare
Some of the unfamiliar sights and sounds of the season could negatively affect them, so it’s best to prepare! Visuals are a great way to do this.
Calendar: Mark the date of trick or treating and allow your child to prepare for the excitement. You could also make a paper chain using Halloween colors and allow them to tear off a link every day leading up to the 31st.
Visual Schedule: Children with autism typically respond well to visual teaching tools. Consider creating a visual schedule of the Halloween event or trick-or-treating plan ahead of time. Use photos or clip art images to lay out how the night will go.
Perhaps include the fact that you’ll begin trick-or-treating before it gets dark, the do’s and don’ts of approaching houses, that you’ll head back home when it’s dark, and what will happen when you get home. Because your schedule will differ from their typical routine, it’s best to include as many details about the night and what to expect as possible.
Books: Share some Halloween books highlighting the activities you may participate in on the big night. This is one of our Halloween tips that can both prepare your child and help to foster real-life connections!
Besides storybooks, you could watch cartoons or movies exemplifying Halloween fun. They might include trick-or-treating, haunted houses, costumes, and carving pumpkins.
3. Choose Their Costume Wisely
Autism and Halloween can get tricky when it comes to costume choice. Texture and fit can be a problem for sensory-sensitive kiddos. Talk with your child in advance to get an idea of what they may be into this year. Visuals from your phone or a magazine can help them.
If necessary, make sure the costume is simple enough, so it doesn’t cause your child discomfort. You can even find simple T-shirt-style versions of your children’s favorite characters.
4. Have a Dress Rehearsal
Allow your child to try their costume on well before the big day, so they know how it will look and feel. If something is too scratchy or tight, you’ll be able to make any necessary adjustments ahead of time.
Then consider a practice run of trick-or-treating. You can either set up a practice time with a trustworthy neighbor or head to a family member’s or friend’s house. This way, they’ll be able to practice walking up to a door, ringing the doorbell or knocking, saying “trick or treat,” and opening their bag for a treat.
5. Seek out Autism-Friendly Halloween Activities
People in costumes, loud sounds, crowds, and light machines are all common on Halloween and may be too much for your child (and that’s okay!) Depending on your child’s needs and sensitivities, you may want to steer clear of crowded events and houses with loud, scary noises and flashing lights.
But there are alternatives to trick or treating if it becomes too stressful for your family. Farms and businesses in your area may offer hayrides or drive-through events with all the pumpkin and ghostly delights of the holiday. If there are these types of events leading up to Halloween, you could try attending them first before you try trick-or-treating to introduce your child to Halloween sights and sounds beforehand.
6. Use Positive Reinforcement
Setting small goals for your child on Halloween might be appropriate. Discuss appropriate behavior ahead of time and let them know they’ll receive a reward when they do a great job. You can reward them if they meet the expectations you’ve discussed with them and exhibit positive behavior.
This is an extremely useful tool to ensure an autism-friendly Halloween and is also helpful in everyday life! Positive reinforcement works well when helping children with autism learn new skills and is used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA therapy). Although there are some myths about using positive reinforcement, it has been proven to be highly effective in helping autistic children learn, grow, and feel more confident in their abilities.
Whether your goal is to see positive behavior during a Halloween party, event, or while trick-or-treating, rewarding your child throughout the night when they are successful will help foster that behavior for the rest of the evening. It will also help build their self-esteem and ensure a smoother evening.
Just be sure to keep your expectations realistic! Don’t expect your child to be able to handle trick-or-treating to the entire neighborhood. It’s okay to just visit a few!
7. Be Safe!
Like any holiday, Halloween can become hectic, and you want to stay aware at all times – especially when it comes to autism and Halloween.
Crowds and interesting sights can cause wandering or confusion very quickly. Check out these Halloween tips for safety:
- Use light-up accents such as glow sticks or necklaces to see your child better in the dark.
- As a parent or guardian, you, too, should wear something that makes you stand out and easy to find.
- If your autistic child is nonverbal, have identification and your information clearly on them. It doesn’t hurt any child to have the means to communicate or carry some form of identification if lost.
- Have a picture handy of them in their costume before leaving the house
8. Make Sensory Adjustments
Goblin roars and ghostly screams might be exciting for some thrill seekers on Halloween. But when it comes to handling autism and Halloween, that’s not always the case. Your child may benefit from noise-canceling headphones while out and about on this frightful and fun night. And if your child feels uncomfortable in large, noisy crowds, you can always give them some quiet time breaks.
Here are some more great ideas to consider when making sensory adjustments for your child on Halloween.
- Noise-canceling headphones/music earbuds
- Ear plugs
- Weighted vest
- Comfort toy or item
- Consider costume comfort/bring a change of clothes
Contact Us at The Autism Therapy Group for More Help
These Halloween tips can help prepare your child for Halloween and ensure your whole family has a great time! It’s okay to have expectations for your child for celebrating, but it’s also critical to respect their boundaries.
At The Autism Therapy Group, we celebrate every child’s differences and utilize social training skills in our individualized ABA therapy plans. We can help your child learn, grow and thrive in the areas of communication, social skills, and self-care while learning how to eliminate negative, disruptive, or harmful behaviors.
We offer both in-home and center-based therapy in three states! Contact us today for more information about our proven ABA therapy treatment options. We can’t wait to meet you and your child!
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