Believe it or not, Halloween can be scary. Decorations, and costumes, and inflated costs of candy, oh my! The scariest part of Halloween, however, may be trying to understand the holiday through the eyes of a child with autism and special needs. These 7 tips will help you to make sure your entire family has a fun and easy Halloween night.
1. Minimize the surprises
Talk to your child about what to expect for Halloween night. Use pictures of children in costumes, videos of trick-or-treating, and anything else you may think of to show your child what this will all look like once the sun goes down. Social stories could be an effective preparation tool. You could even make a social story using pictures of your own kids from previous Halloween nights.
2. Know your neighborhood
Take a walk one night down the streets that you plan on taking your child to for trick-or-treating. Notice the decorations on each house. Do you see any houses that you may want to avoid due to their scare factor? Think about talking to your neighbors to ask if they are planning to dress up and scare the children when they come up to the house. It might also be smart to visit Halloween stores that you plan on bringing your child to beforehand. Halloween stores tend to like to place a life-size animated prop right at their entrance. No need for nightmares that could be easily avoided!
3. Give a lesson on the rules of trick-or-treating
Give your child step-by-step instructions for how trick-or-treating works. Teach them things such as how they will not enter the house after knocking and saying, “trick-or-treat”, put the candy in the bag, say thank you, and move on to the next house. Practice makes perfect, so think about practicing the trick-or-treating routine with your child before the big night. Make sure your child knows what to do when there is a break in the routine, such as if a neighbor does not answer the door.
4. Test out the costume
Costumes can pose some issues for a child with sensory issues. The costume may be itchy, too loose, too tight, and too warm or not warm enough. If your child’s costume requires makeup, there could be issues with the makeup being sticking, smelly, or weird feeling. Masks can cause restrictions in views or be uncomfortable to wear. Dress your child up in advance to see if you can make any alterations that can avoid issues on the big night. Your child may not be enthusiastic about wearing a costume, but try to tie in one of their passions and let them dress as the character they watch on repeat. Make sure they also know it is okay to not wear a costume.
5. Explain the plan for candy
Think ahead about what will happen before and after trick-or-treating. Think about dropping off packages of allowable snacks to your neighbors for them to give to your child if your child has a restricted diet. Otherwise, be prepared with acceptable treats that you can swap out when you get home at the end of the night. Let your child know beforehand what he/she can or cannot do with the candy at the end of the night. Will you put a limit on candy consumption or allow them to eat it all as soon as you get home? Share your expectations with your child ahead of time.
6. The more the merrier!
Have your child bring along a neurotypical friend that can help demonstrate the trick-or-treating rules throughout the night. This friend can also help keep an eye on your child during this busy night with many candy goers on the streets. If your child is known to wander off, consider having them wear light-up sneakers or carry a glow stick to make it easier to spot them. If you have other children, have a plan set in case your child with autism is ready to go home earlier than his/her siblings.
7. Minimize the fear
There can be a lot going on during the peak of Halloween night. Maybe go trick-or-treating before the sun goes down if you think your child might be afraid of everything going on in the dark. Have your child pass out candy or invite a small group over for a candy swap if going door to door is too overwhelming for them. Malls and community centers sometimes hold a trick-or-treating event, but ask about the expected crowd size prior. If your child decides to stay home, think about the possible commotion. How will your child react to constant knocking at your front door, the doorbell ringing, the dog barking each time it rings, or kids screaming “trick-or-treat”? And of course, the tip you must remember: make sure you have a foolproof plan to steal your favorite candy from your child’s bag.