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Hi everyone! It’s almost time for Halloween – the one time of year you get to be someone else/get candy/decorate outside/get scared and so on. But Halloween isn’t always fun for every child you know. Halloween was fun for me as a child, but that’s not the case for many kids with autism or special needs. So, I thought back about my own experiences with Halloween when there was a scary block in my neighborhood that I did not like. I did some research and talked with family members to come up with a list of what can upset a child with Autism/special needs on Halloween, and what you can do to help relax them – I learned so much!
Trick or Treating – Getting an Autistic child to approach a stranger’s home while trick-or-treating, much less to greet them with any sort of social appropriateness, is likely to cause extreme anxiety. One way to help children overcome this is to avoid overstimulation by limiting their time. Carry a flashlight to help guide your path and bring a wagon if they get tired easily. Take headphones in case the noise level of the other kids becomes overwhelming and bring a comfort toy (ex. Stuffed toy, fidget spinner), in case your child becomes upset. Practice going to a neighbor’s door, ringing the bell or knocking on the door and receiving candy. Some children with Autism just don’t want to go trick-or-treating. Instead, skip the trick-or-treating and have your children pass out candy with you. Keeping the area well-lit will allow them to observe trick-or-treating, and hopefully they will gain some understanding of the festivities by watching others. If things become overwhelming, you can simply turn off your light and go inside.
Those “fun” costumes – Try on costumes before Halloween. If the costume is uncomfortable or doesn’t fit right, it may cause unnecessary stress and ruin their fun. If children don’t like their costumes, don’t force children to wear them. Instead, talk about the situation with them and try to uncover what they don’t like about it. Maybe suggest they wear it for short periods of time and at increasing intervals over time. Or consider a Halloween costume that fits over regular clothes, like butterfly wings or capes.
Then there’s the darkness – All the blinking lights can make some kids very anxious. Try bringing a flashlight along to make them feel safe. As for those blinking lights, maybe bring sunglasses to help them feel relaxed around the blinking lights. If they are afraid of going out at night, plan indoor or daytime Halloween activities.
And the decorations – Decorations can scare or cause anxiety too. If you can’t avoid the area, try bringing blindfold, or try noise cancelling headphones for them to wear. This could help them to “Hear no evil, see no evil” in a literal way while walking through the scary neighborhood. Holding their hands can be a tremendous reassurance for some children.
Finally, we have the candy – If your loved one is on a restricted diet or candy will counteract their medication, consider allowing your child trade in the candy he/she acquires for an outing he/she enjoys or a new toy. This trade allows the child to experience trick-or-treating without feeling alienated and still provides a viable option for him/her.
I don’t trick or treat anymore, but when I did, I experienced anxiety. I hope these tips help you and your little one! With some planning, children with Autism/special needs can have fun and be a part of what so many enjoy.
Thanks for letting me share ideas and suggestions on how to help make a child with Autism/special needs feel safe and have fun on Halloween!
For more information, visit https://www.autism-society.org/news/make-halloween-better-experience-7-tips-set-success/.