With Halloween vastly approaching, who isn’t excited? Everyone loves that one night a year where you can pretend to be someone or something else. Maybe a vampire, a witch, or even a princess! Halloween is a highly anticipated holiday for people of all ages, from toddlers to adults. It’s a night filled with costumes, candy, parties and fun.
However, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder may have a more difficult time coping with the changes that take place during the Halloween festivities. Halloween, in particular, effects individuals who are on the spectrum differently. Whether it is the noises, the costumes, or the decorations – the sensory changes that take place in their surroundings may make individuals on the spectrum feel overwhelmed.
Halloween is supposed to be a day filled with creating memories and fun, but for individuals with autism, as well as parents of children with autism, it can be a stressful day. Here are some tips to make this Halloween more autism friendly:
Writing a social narrative a few days prior to Halloween that describes what your child will do on the big day can be beneficial. Read the story several times before Halloween night so your child has time to adjust, and will know what to expect. This allows for a smooth transition from practicing to the real thing. Arranging a mock trick or treating is beneficial as well. This can help your child get acclimated to the behavior associated with the holiday.
2. Costume Hacks
For individuals with autism, costumes can be one of the most difficult parts about Halloween. Individuals with autism can have sensory processing issues, making most costumes unbearable. The feeling of bulky, uncomfortable polyester material against their skin can be physically painful, causing meltdowns and outfit refusal. Instead of spending money on an expensive costume that will go to waste, homemade costumes from soft material are a better alternative. If you aren’t crafty with making a costume, try having your child wear regular clothes that are comfortable to them. You can even add an accessory such as fairy wings, cat ears, or even a cowboy hat to transition their outfit. They can wear their favorite t-shirt with a character on it, or even a festive Halloween shirt will help them fit the part, while simultaneously being comfortable.
3. Model Language for Emotional Release
Your child may feel scared or overwhelmed if things pop out and scare them, or if people are screaming too loud. They may not know how to react when this happens or are used to this type of situation. Try to model language that your child can use to release emotions for reassurance and comfort. For example, you can say things like, “Ew! How gross!” or “Yikes! That frightened me a lot! I’m glad that’s not real.” or “Nice try—you can’t ‘trick’ or ‘fool’ me—I know that’s fake, and it can’t hurt me.” At any point, tell your child that it’s always OK to say something for immediate relief like, “I don’t like that. Please take it away.” If your child is non verbal, pay close attention to their reactions to certain things and be sure to practice signals or movements that you can identify.
4. Take it Easy
Halloween in general is a holiday that is filled with plenty of noise, lights and activity. Kids are screaming “trick or treat!”, car headlights are bright, there’s creepy music, and families fill the streets. To an individual with autism, this can be extremely overwhelming. If you plan to take your child trick or treating, try to keep it short and only go to a few houses. Keeping the night short, sweet, and within their comfort zone will make them happier and more relaxed.