Learn About Navigating Autism and Halloween
by Jaime Friedman
October 25, 2022
Celebrating Halloween with Autism (and related disorders)
Halloween can be a stressful time for some children. It is common for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to struggle with some of the Halloween traditions. Between unfamiliar social situations and additional sensory stimuli in the form of decorations, costumes and crowds, someone with ASD could be easily overwhelmed.
Even with social aversions or heightened sensory sensitivity, there are ways for children with ASD to participate in and enjoy Halloween festivities. With the right planning, practice and individualization, parents can help their children have a safe and enjoyable Halloween. For general information and tips about Halloween safety, please see this article posted by the FDA.
Planning Your Halloween
Children with Autism often find comfort in following routines. Not much about Halloween could be considered routine but making and following a plan can help your child normalize what they experience when they celebrate. Creating a plan and reviewing it with your child can also alleviate some of the hesitations associated with the unknown.
It is recommended that parents and their children establish guidelines for the following variables and any others that the child exhibits concern for:
- Where do they plan on going?
- When do they plan on starting?
- Which houses will they stop by?
- Who is going?
- What will they wear?
- When will they be home?
By discussing the answers to these questions, parents can help their child with ASD conceptualize and anticipate the challenges they may be faced with on Halloween. If a parent suspects that their child could struggle with a specific aspect of the holiday, they can do simulated practices leading up to the actual event. When it’s finally time to go trick-or-treating or attend the Halloween party, the child will have hopefully had enough practice to be successful.
If receiving the answers to these essential questions still does not excite your child for Halloween, you can “gamify” the experience and even offer rewards for participation in certain events. A blog on the Autism Connection of Pennsylvania website offers a few games that can help add structure and incentives for children less willing to participate on their own.
Parents should have their children try on their costumes more than once. Whether you make arrangements to practice trick-or-treating, or you start holding “dress rehearsals” at home, it is recommended that children with Autism, especially those with sensory aversions, try their costumes on at least once before Halloween. Your child should be comfortable enough to stay in the costume for a couple hours at a time. Try looking for comfortable material while costume shopping, and you should consider getting a larger size than is needed. That way, your child can wear their normal clothes underneath for additional comfort, and they will have the option to take the costume off at any time.
If your child plans on trick-or-treating, stick to the plan you made with them and take precautionary measures to prepare for behaviors associated with sensory overload or any other potential outcomes. You can potentially prevent sensory overload by bringing fidget toys, noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, just in case your child hears an unsettling sound or sees some scary decorations.
If you made a plan or set goals for trick-or-treating, stick to them as best as possible. There is less uncertainty when everything goes according to plan, and this could be a huge source of relief for children with Autism.
If your child still feels overwhelmed by Halloween, even with the accommodations, there are alternative ways to celebrate. You and your child can throw a Halloween party at your house, for example. That way, your child can still participate in the holiday and practice socializing, while having more control over the situation in general.