By Sally Burke, Licensed Board Certified Behavior Analyst (Director of Specialty Early Intervention Services)
Halloween and all of its tricks and treats can be a very thrilling holiday for many families. It may be more challenging for some families, especially for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). If you ask a child what their favorite holiday is, Halloween will most likely feature somewhere near the top. Who wouldn’t want to dress up as their favorite superhero or princess, visit their neighbors’ homes and get candy and eat sweet treats until their parents tell them no more?
Some children with autism struggle with pretend-play, and can have issues related to different types of costume clothing fabrics and all of those cute costume accessories. Social skills may be an area of need and some children may not be able to engage in appropriate responses which could possibly lead to other behavioral challenges. They may have limited vocal abilities which do not allow them to engage in conversations that typically evolve during “trick or treating”, such as saying please and thank you. They may not understand they cannot consume all the little treats right away. You want your child to be part of this exciting experience and engage in this off-beat and fun tradition, but you are worried that Halloween may just not be for you and your child.
Tricks and Tips for Halloween:
You know your child best. You know their likes/dislikes and tolerance for particular types of clothing. Try on costumes well in advance. Let them play in it for short intervals for a few weeks prior to Halloween. If nothing fits right or seems like they will not tolerate it for an extended period of time, consider just a T-shirt with a pumpkin or simple items worn over regular clothes, like a cape. Don’t make them wear something they are not comfortable in.
Create a visual social story or find a book that discusses the topic of Halloween and all it offers and what to expect prior to the event. (You can Google search Halloween social stories and a variety will pop up for you that are already created or you can modify them to meet your child’s needs).
Look for opportunities to practice trick or treating. Review and rehearse the act of trick or treating. See if neighbors will let you ring their doorbell to practice the “trick or treat” skill a few days before Halloween.
Know their limits. If they can only handle a few houses, do not push them to do more. Stop before a potential problem behavior arises and praise them for a job well done.
Attempt to go to places your child may already be comfortable, such as relatives or friends’ homes. This pairs the new activity of trick or treating with already established places and people. Consider skipping homes with lots of lights, sounds, and scary decorations.
If it is an option for you, consider staying home and having your child help you pass out treats. They may enjoy this just as much as going out.