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Halloween is anything but ordinary. Since kids with autism thrive on structure and routine, such a big change can be pretty scary. Spend time with your child throughout the month sharing Halloween rituals. Practicing different rituals (like knocking on a door, “saying trick-or-treat”) can help kids with autism understand Halloween-themed events, activities, and social norms. Make sure to go over getting dressed up, trick-or-treating, Halloween parties, and any other Halloween activities you plan on participating in.
Some costumes can be uncomfortable for kids with sensory issues – makeup can be sticky, masks can limit eyesight, and polyester outfits often fit poorly or itch. To avoid any day-of issues, make sure your child tries on their costume well in advance. Have a few dress rehearsals to get your child used to wearing it. Start with short periods each day and gradually increase the intervals over time.
Costumes that fit over normal clothes, like capes or butterfly wings, are great options for getting into the holiday spirit without causing discomfort. Just make sure your child likes what they’re wearing; if they don’t like their costume, don’t force them to wear it.
Year round, we teach our children to refuse candy from strangers and avoid going up to strange houses. On Halloween, all that changes, which can be quite jarring for children with autism. If your child plans on trick or treating, help them prepare by practicing the entire routine from start to finish: knocking on the door, waiting patiently for someone to answer, saying “trick or treat,” accepting the candy, and saying “thank you.” How much you practice this routine depends on your child’s needs – some kids may only need to practice once, while others may need daily practice. On the day of, consider going up to the door with them or having a sibling or friend tag along so they feel more comfortable.
If you’re trick or treating with your child, let them go at their own pace. Some children take to Halloween and want to keep trick or treating all night long, but others may want to stop after just three houses. If the latter sounds like your child, don’t pressure them to keep going. Starting small and building up to more houses each year ensures Halloween stays as stress-free as possible.
If your child isn’t interested in trick or treating, consider going to a community event, school festival, or neighborhood party instead. Since your child already knows some of the people attending, these events may be less overwhelming than approaching strangers’ houses. Plus, if he/she becomes overwhelmed, you can just head to the car and go home.
If your child has dietary restrictions, you’ll need a solid plan for what to do with the Halloween candy your child collects. Consider having your child trade in their candy for an outing they enjoy or a toy they’ve had their eye on. Or, plan your trick or treating route to visit houses with a teal pumpkin outside. This signals the house is passing out non-food treats to respect children with food allergies, so your child can experience the fun of Halloween without gathering too much candy. Whatever plan you decide on, make sure it’s not a secret. Children with autism like knowing what’s going to happen, so make sure they’re prepared by sharing the plan with them as often as necessary.
With the right preparation, a plan in place, and some flexibility, you can make this Halloween the best yet. For more information on how you can help your child with autism, contact Trumpet Behavioral Health.