By Amy Pinder, MA, CCC-SLP
Halloween is a wonderful opportunity for fostering creativity, imagination, and pretend play. However bright flashing lights, large crowds, sugary treats, scary and itchy costumes can present challenges for children with autism and other sensitivities. To make the most of of your Halloween experience, consider the tips below:
1. Scope out the neighborhood ahead of time.
Choose the houses you are going to visit on Halloween night and walk around that area ahead of time. Point out the Halloween decorations and talk about the ways they might change in the dark. Explain to your child that the streets will be more crowded on Halloween night. Identify an open space such as a park or playground where you can take a quiet break if needed.
2. Build up excitement!
Help your child to better understand the concept of Halloween. Visit a Halloween store, read Halloween books, watch Halloween movies, and let your child dress up in costumes of their favorite characters during play sessions. You can role play expected scenarios like what to say if someone asks “What is your costume?” or what to do when trick-or-treating.
3. Create a social story and read it together.
Social stories are learning tools that help a child understand what to expect in a situation. Create a story that explains your Halloween plans and traditions so your child knows what will happen. For advice on how to create a social story, visit https://www.speechandlanguagekids.com/halloween-social-story
4. Limit sugary treats.
Eating excess sugar and food dyes can have negative impacts on all children. Make a plan ahead of time for how many treats your child will be able to eat, and how any dietary restrictions will be accommodated. You can consider delivering allowable snacks to neighbors ahead of time, or set up a trade system where your child gives you a set number of pieces of collected candy in exchange for a highly motivating treat that is part of their diet. Making a chart or diagram might help your child understand the system you decide on.
5. Consider alternatives that suit your child’s needs.
Not all children will enjoy trick-or-treating on Halloween night. Consider your child’s strengths, challenges, and preferences and select events and activities that will be best for your family. For example, your child may prefer staying in on Halloween night and helping to pass out candy, or trick-or-treating in a relaxed, indoor environment. Many communities offer events in malls and other public spaces.
6. Relax, be flexible, and have fun!
Your child will have more fun and be more relaxed if you are calm, confident, and willing to go with the flow. Be sure to read your child’s cues, take breaks as needed, and make mental notes about the challenges and successes so that you can be even more prepared for next year.
Amy Pinder is a speech-language therapist who specializes in the treatment of children with autism. She is the owner of an integrative therapy practice, Circles of Communication. Learn more at www.circlesofcommunication.com.