So it is the season of pumpkins and spices, autumnal colors and harvest. Yes, it’s Halloween and for children on the spectrum this can be a literal nightmare. So, how can we have an autism friendly Halloween? Halloween like many other celebrations can cause an extreme amount of sensory overload for children who are on the autism spectrum. There is an overdose of color, sound, sensation and food. This can cause extreme anxiety and as I said and sensory overwhelm. So how can you get your child to participate in Halloween and Trick or Treating if they are on the autism spectrum? Luckily over the past few years we have seen the evolution of the Teal Pumpkin. This is a teal container which includes allergy free candy, some small toys, and other friendly items for children who either have allergies, are gluten intolerant, or for children who can't eat candy, and also children on the autism spectrum.
As a parent there are also some other things you can take into consideration. First is first, if you child is uncomfortable, doesn’t want to participate please don’t make them. Of course you can encourage and try some of the other tips I suggest to get them past the sensory issues that they will experience, but never force a child on the spectrum to do anything. Here are some tips:
If you are in a neighborhood where you know your neighbors, have a chat with your them about your child and their particular needs. For example, if you have a child that doesn’t like anything red, ask them to be mindful of that. Provide the types of candy or alternatives to your neighbors so that they won’t be getting any candy with food coloring that can cause hyperactivity. Ask your neighbors NOT to come to the door with anything that will be too overwhelming or scary for your child. They can’t assimilate things that do not make sense to them.
Map out where you will go Trick or Treating and show your child the map. This is where you could let your neighbours know that you are going to near their house at an approximate time.
As well as the map, create a Social Story. Let the child know that people will be dressed up, they will see things that may not make sense to them, remind them it is not real.
You might want to show them pictures of Halloween costumes, consider reading stories, watch a few clips on YouTube.
Give your child as much preparation as possible. Also give them a chance to ask you questions.
Have a time limit of 30-40 minutes and limit the houses you go to.
If your child wants to quit, don’t try to pressure them to continue. If you work with them, you’ll have more chance of gaining their trust and confidence for next time.
If your child has sensory issues, you can build sound blocking headphones into their costume. This way you can filter the noise level for them.
Let them choose their costume, help them to be part of the process. This way it will make more sense to them.
If they don’t want to wear a costume, don’t make them.
Be mindful of the costume and that the texture of the material doesn’t cause problems. Many kids on the spectrum have sensitivity to different types of textures and don’t like this on their skin.
Where possible try to make your own costume so that you are in control of the texture.
Make sure the costume has pockets, so you can have something like a sensory stress ball (or something similar that helps to calm) in their pocket that they can use if they are feeling a little anxious.
Think about adding some weight to the costume, a weighted vest perhaps. Again it can be inbuilt so no-one knows that it is not part of the Halloween costume. You might be thinking that this is going to take a little bit of work and yes it will.
The first few experiences will always be more work than the subsequent experiences.
If we want children who are on the autism spectrum to be included in society and the events that occur around them, we have to meet them where they are at first.
What do I mean by that?
For them, they will not understand Halloween in the same way that a neurotypical child will. They will think it doesn’t make sense and if something doesn’t make sense it makes them nervous and apprehensive. So, we meet them at a place where it can begin to make sense to them. Small steps. Give them as much information as possible to prepare them and with support from loving people around them they might get to Trick or Treat at one or two houses. If that’s all they get to do to start with, then that’s an achievement. Next year, try for four houses. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t let your child’s differences prevent you from trying. Work around them. There is always a way! If it doesn’t work this year, try a different plan next year. What was it that didn’t work? Make adjustments and ensure you don’t repeat the same plan again. Everything with autism is trial and error, but we will never know what your child can achieve if we don’t try.