Kids everywhere seem to love Halloween – the costumes, the candy, the late night! There’s something magical about getting to play pretend outside on the ultimate sugar-high. For children with autism spectrum disorder (and their parents), though, Halloween can be daunting, overwhelming, and sometimes more scary than exciting.
At Innovative Behavior Options, we know this holiday can be tough, but we also believe that, with proper preparation, it can be fun for kids with autism, too! Here are a few tips and tricks, using some of the same principals we use in ABA therapy, to help make Halloween a success for your family.
Choose a sensory-friendly costume
For children with sensory issues, costumes can pose a litany of concerns: too tight, too hot, too itchy. Keeping your child physically comfortable will go a long way toward making the evening fun. You know your child best, and if you think a full-body outfit is going to be too much, try getting creative with one of these ideas:
- Add a hat or a cape to a favorite outfit
- Decorate a soft shirt
- Find a hoodie of your favorite character
- Wear a Halloween-themed t-shirt
- Look for character-themed pajamas
Remember to play off of your child’s interests. This is a great opportunity to let your kiddo really showcase what he or she is excited about. What’s his favorite tv show? Is there a character in a book she can’t get enough of?
Prepare ahead of time
As with anything new or outside the routine, preparation is key! We’re all a little scared of the unknown, so take the surprise out of Halloween and talk with your child about what to expect. Create a visual story with pictures and find videos online of other children on Halloween (preview them first, of course!). Let your child try on his or her costume ahead of time and wear it around for a bit to make sure it’s comfortable.
If your child plans to trick-or-treat, practice! Plan a route and walk through it together – during the day and in the evening. Explain step-by-step how trick-or-treating works and discuss how it’s different from our normal social interactions. If you have a willing neighbor, do a dress rehearsal so that your child can practice all of the new and different skills.
You might also want to make a candy plan ahead of time. Many children with autism are on restricted diets, and a holiday with so much freely available sugar can be a real challenge. Perhaps you can drop off some allowable snacks or small toys with your neighbors ahead of time, or maybe your child can trade in their candy for a toy or a special outing once they get home. If the plan is going to involve limiting the number or types of candy or trading it in once they’re home, make sure your kiddo is on-board and prepared before heading out.
Avoid overstimulation and stick to the familiar
If your child is up for trick-or-treating, great! Bring a flashlight and be prepared to skip scary houses or cut it short if things start to become too much. Plan on starting with only a handful of houses to keep it manageable.
If trick-or-treating isn’t a good fit, there are still some great ways to get your child involved in Halloween!
- Let your child help give out candy at home. Make sure things are well lit, and preview visitors for any scary costumes. If your child wants to hand out a piece of candy on their own, practice ahead of time!
- Visit a fall festival or Halloween party in a familiar place, such as at school or a community center. Your child can still wear their costume and participate surrounded by the comfort of a familiar environment.
At Innovative Behavior Options, we’d love to partner with you and your child to make Halloween a fun, exciting holiday! We offer ABA sessions in our Roswell, Georgia therapy center and provide in-home ABA therapy throughout metro Atlanta.