Halloween can be a bit tricky for individuals on the spectrum. It’s the one night of the year where it’s okay to talk to strangers and take candy from strangers, and we ring people’s door bells but don’t go inside! There are many things to consider when it comes to having a successful Halloween, and preparation is key. Here are a few of our favorite tips:
Visual stories and videos
Watching social stories and videos can help on the front end of prepping to portray Halloween expectations. Create your own visual schedule with expectations of the night for the child to see and follow during the event.
Many individuals on the spectrum have sensory issues with costumes (wigs, make up, and scratchy outfits). Make sure your child is willing and comfortable wearing their costume prior to the big day. Consider allowing the child to wear their costume around a couple nights before. If they aren’t taking well to the costume, perhaps try a simple pumpkin t-shirt or pajamas that they would be comfortable in.
Practice makes progress, not perfection
Practice the steps of trick or treating as much as possible prior to the night. You could talk to a few surrounding neighbors and see if they would be willing to let your child come up to their door to practice. Or even try in your own home! Close all the doors and get siblings or friends involved in the process. Knocking, saying trick or treat, receiving the candy, waving bye or saying thank you, and walking away.
Nonverbal? No problem!
There are different options for saying "trick or treat" without talking, so choose what would work best for your child. You could make little cards to pass out or have a candy bag with messaging such as, “I have autism and it can be difficult for me to say ‘Trick or Treat,’ but I am trying and I love candy!” Use whatever messaging fits best for you. If your child has a communication device, you could have the statement ready in their device, so that when they approach the door they just have to hit the button, instead of searching for all the buttons to make a long statement each time. Don’t forget to include any allergies your child may have in their statement. Alternatively you could have a parent, sibling or provider attend with the child and help speak for them, or help interpret sign language if that is their preferred use of communication.
Some individuals, including parents (haha), might have a hard time not eating the candy right away. You could practice having someone else hold the candy or bring candy of your own to snack on during your outing. Some individuals may not like certain candies or have allergies, so consider purchasing items that the child can have and asking your neighbors to give that item to your child when he or she arrives.
Location and time
It may be helpful to trick or treat while it's still daylight. The streets will be less crowded which may put less pressure on your child. Venture out to familiar neighborhoods. It may be helpful to walk around the neighborhood on days leading up to Halloween so that the child knows the spooky decorations are fake. If the child has a tough time attending for long periods of time, keep the route known and within close proximity to home. Consider attending local trunk-or-treat events or a sensory friendly Halloween party. Contact your local adaptive recreation program for availability.
Candy might be very reinforcing to many children; however, to avoid a sugar rush or distraction, try bringing along other items that are reinforcing to your child such as stickers, iPad, music or toys. Don’t forget to use verbal praise and high fives throughout the night!
Lastly, know the child’s limits. If they can only handle a few houses, try not to push them to do more. Stop before a potential problem behavior arises and praise them for a job well done, and try to end the whole experience on a positive note. If you have an available provider, see if they would like to come help earlier in the night, so other siblings don’t miss out. Parents can take turns with the kids if needed.
If trick or treating isn’t an option for your family, another great way for your child to participate is to stay home and help pass out treats. Or, turn off the outdoor lights and get together as family and watch a fun movie or play a game. It may be just as much fun as going out. If Halloween doesn’t go so well this year, you can always try again next year. We hope you have a happy Halloween, and have a ghoulish time!