While many families experience spooky festivities with gleeful anticipation and ease, those with a child on the autism spectrum may see Halloween as an anxiety-riddled, stressful experience. Halloween notoriously presents several challenges for many kids with autism such as wearing a costume, going out into the dark, interacting with strangers, and dealing with the unknown. Fortunately, with a little preparation, parents can help this holiday season be a fun one for all involved!
Many children with autism are highly resistant to wearing part or all of a costume; sensory issues can make costumes feel uncomfortable and restrictive. To combat this obstacle, here are several practical solutions:
Have your child’s costume ready well in advance. The more time your child has to practice wearing their costume, the more likely you’ll be able to reinforce and troubleshoot any issues.
Get your child’s buy-in. What are your child’s current interests or hobbies? Come up with a few options centered around their interests and allow them to choose which one they’d prefer. Putting some level of control back in your child’s hands can help motivate them to wear the costume once it’s time.
Modify as needed. Two simple snips can turn an outfit into shorts for a child who hates wearing pants. That annoying tag? Cut it off! Accessory troubles? Feel free to ditch the hat, beard, or wig if your child just can’t handle that part of the get-up!
Look in the closet. Try using clothing that is similar to what your child is comfortable wearing on a daily basis. Adding a simple cape, a badge, or a sticker can easily turn a school outfit into a superhero or sheriff.
- Don’t force it. All said and done, if your child doesn’t want to wear a costume, don’t turn it into a battle. Halloween can still be fun in everyday clothes!
Safety in the Dark
Trick-or-treating typically takes place in the dark, which can not only be scary for children, but also for parents of children with autism who fear that their child may run away or easily get lost in the process and not be able to communicate their needs to others. These tips may help curb some of these safety concerns:
Snap a photo. Take a picture of your child in their costume before venturing out so that you can share it with others in the case of an emergency.
Pair up. Trick-or-treating with a buddy or partner can not only help your child by giving someone to model the process, but it also can help by having someone extra to stick with.
- Make them shine. Flashlights, glow sticks, and light-up shoes can help increase children’s visibility so they can be easily tracked and spotted in the dark.
Making Interactions Less Spooky
Social interactions are often difficult for children on the autism spectrum; Halloween can be particularly overwhelming, as it involves multiple social interactions, often with bizarrely dressed strangers. Here are some ways to make the social side of Halloween easier, including:
Rehearse. In the days leading up to Halloween, practice saying “trick-or-treat!,” rehearse the process with a neighbor or family member, make a routine so they can anticipate and be reminded of the steps, and provide lots of reinforcement!
Review ground rules. Discussing rules like not entering houses, limiting the amount of candy you take, and sticking with your buddy is critical to do in advance. Illustrated social stories can be a helpful tool in aiding these conversations with your child.
- Know your child’s limits. Plan a routine based on what your child can currently handle, and end things while they are going well! Starting with a small trick-or-treat event in the daylight or visiting two or three familiar neighbors at first may be the best initial approach.
Editor's note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.