Don’t Be Spooked by Halloween: Tips and Tricks for Making it a Treat for Kids with Autism
Halloween can be an exciting yet challenging time for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) due to sensory sensitivities, social interactions, and unexpected changes in routine. Our BCBAs share some strategies to make Halloween more enjoyable for kids with autism and their families:
Start preparing for Halloween a few weeks ahead so that you can frontload your child with relevant information and give them some time to adapt to the concept.
Prepare in Advance – Let’s Talk About It:
Discuss what Halloween is, why people celebrate it, and what to expect.
Read books, watch movies, and look at pictures or cartoons to give them visual cues on what to expect.
Talk specifics about some of your neighborhood traditions if you have any.
Creating a social story or visual schedule that outlines what to expect during Halloween, from the doorbell ringing to receiving candy. Include strategies for saying “trick-or-treat” and “thank you.”
Choosing a costume can be difficult and emotional, but there are ways to limit frustrations.
Try on costumes before Halloween.
Let them play in their costumes for short intervals to see if any sensory issues arise.
Try to avoid uncomfortable materials that limit mobility, breathing, or vision.
If clothing texture becomes an issue, consider something simple like a decorated hoodie, character pajamas, or an accessory they could wear over regular clothes, like a cape or butterfly wings. You can also search online for “Halloween costumes for kids with autism” or “sensory-friendly Halloween costume ideas.
Practice Trick-or-Treating – Role Play!!!:
A great way to practice is to role-play what it would be like to go trick-or-treating. If you have friendly neighbors, you could ask if they would let you ring their doorbell a few days ahead of time to practice saying “trick-or-treat.” You can do this with a trusted friend or family member to help your child become familiar with the routine. This is also a critical time to discuss safety rules, setting boundaries, and Halloween etiquette. A visual schedule can help illustrate the steps involved in trick-or-treating.
Plan a Quiet Space:
If your child becomes overwhelmed, designate a quiet, safe space where they can take a break.
This space can serve as a sensory retreat, allowing your child to regroup and manage sensory overload. Practice this with your child and have identified strategies and locations before heading out to start trick-or-treating.
Offer sensory-friendly treats as alternatives to traditional candy if your child has specific dietary restrictions or sensory preferences. Prepare some sensory items, small toys, or stickers to swap out for candy. Some parents have even found success in handing out items acceptable for their kids to houses ahead of time.
Provide communication aids, such as a visual communication board or AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device, to assist with interactions during Halloween.
After Halloween, help your child wind down and gradually return to their usual routine.
Remove or store decorations that may be overwhelming.
Remember that every child is unique, so tailor your approach to their specific needs and preferences. The goal is to make Halloween a positive and enjoyable experience for them while respecting their sensitivities and individuality.
Most importantly, know your child’s limits – and your own limits. Start small and move slowly. You do not have to cover the entire neighborhood. Start by going to just a couple of houses and assessing how your child is doing. Steamboat has many neighborhood activities that can also be a good place to start, as your child may be more comfortable with people they know. Most importantly, allow your child to participate at their own pace. It is okay if they are not interested in dressing up or going trick-or-treating. Halloween has many fun aspects, so keep an open mind and have options!