Halloween is a fun time of year for most children. They love getting dressed up in costumes, going to parties, as well as going trick or treating where they get the best thing of all, candy! But for many children with autism this is a very difficult holiday.
As they get older, they want to participate with their peers, but due to noise sensitivity, food allergies, and perhaps fears of the dark and crowds, it may keep them from enjoying themselves as they deserve to. What can a parent do? Here are rules you can go over with your child with autism to make Halloween Autism Friendly.
1) Let your child pick a costume that they find comfortable: It is so important for a child to feel comfortable in their own skin, and the best way to start is if they are physically comfortable in their clothes. A costume where they can move freely and truly breathe is the best way to start. Also, remember to think about the weather, layering and being visible in the dark if they are going outside.
2) Consider an indoor venue or going to only a few homes: For some kids trick or treating inside or outside past a few homes or places can be intimidating and lead to a meltdown. It is important to go with their body language and comfort level. See how they are doing with the people around them, the lighting, and the noise. Indoor trick or treating in a shopping mall could be a nightmare for some kids with light or noise sensitivity, whereas going outside in the dark can be a nightmare for other kids who are afraid of the dark and processing the strange things they see around them. It's best to see with your child what they would prefer. Sometimes a small party at home or at a friend's house can be the solution too.
3) Bring their headphones, chew or fidget toys, and any other toys that could help with sensory issues: These are good ways to make it as comfortable for your child in terms of how they feel in their bodies and how they process things around them. When they can be in tune with themselves and the way they process noise, light and sight, they can enjoy themselves more in a festive atmosphere. Also remember water for all that walking.
4) Go over scripts of what to say and NOT to say: This is particularly helpful for older verbal children. Sometimes despite how obvious it is to us, kids with autism don't understand the social cues around them and may not know what to say or do. They may also be a little too forward.
For example, we had coached my son on the "Trick or Treat" on his first year out, but had forgotten to remind him to open his bag and stay on the porch of the house. He was used to going into someone's house right away when the door opened, like when we visited friends. It made for some laughs and some stressful moments too. I re-wrote our Social Story for Halloween to include staying close to adults, waiting on the porch, opening the bag, and saying Trick or Treat!
5) Make sure you explain what candy they could eat and not eat in advance: This is good to do whether your child has food allergies or not. We also have set ground rules for when our son could have candy, how much, and where we keep it. For him, like for many children, the joy is more in the outing and time with friends than in the consumption, though of course he enjoys eating the "fun food" too.
6) Eat dinner first then go trick or treating with a buddy if possible: After a light but healthy dinner, most kids, with and without autism, will have more fun if a friend is trick or treating with them. My son had a blast last year when two of his good friends joined him. And it was nice as all the Dads went too! It gave this Mom a little bit of a breather. Check with your child if this is what they want and try to go with a friend that is just as willing obviously.
Holidays are generally a little more overwhelming for kids with autism, but with a good plan, pictures to explain things in advance if your child responds to it, and being rested and in positive spirits, a child can go a long way to having a great Halloween experience with their family and friends.
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