Halloween is just around the corner, and this is typically an exciting evening full of spooky adventures! For most kids, dressing up, playing tricks, and filling up on candy can be a highpoint of the experience. Who wouldn’t love that, right? Unfortunately, some children with special needs may find this holiday a little overwhelming, which can lead to meltdowns and a not-so-fun-night. Children with autism may not fully understand what Halloween is all about. A dark night full of scary costumes, lights, noises, and decorations can be very frightening. The good news is there are things you can do to help make it a good experience for these kids.
Opt for comfort-fit costumes.
Choose a loose and comfortable costume for your child. Avoid bulky masks to minimise sensory overload. Whatever costume you do choose, try having your child practice wearing it at home a few times before the big night.
Engage in Social Stories.
Unfamiliar events like Halloween, going to the dentist, or attending a new school can possibly elicit challenging behaviours for children. Help prepare your child by using a “Social Story”. Social Stories, created by Carol Gray, are a great social learning tool to help children with Autism understand and cope with novel situations using words and pictures.
With this learning tool, you could create one of your own Stories and read it to your child in the days leading up to the big night. Simply write out each step of the evening and draw a picture to go with it. You could put it all on one page, or create a separate page for each step. Write each brief sentence in the “first person”. It should outline what they will say or do throughout the night.
For example, you could say out loud, “First, I put on my costume. Next, I grab my treat bag. Then, I open the front door and say, ‘Trick or Treat!” Be sure to include fun, bright, colourful pictures next to each sentence.
If you need some ideas or guidance to get you started, try this helpful online special education program called Boardmaker, or simply source pictures from Google Images.
Participate in Halloween activities ahead of time.
A week or two before the big night, start exposing your child to some typical Halloween traditions, like carving pumpkins or putting up fall decorations. There are many fun Halloween crafts that you can do at home. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
Be mindful of sound sensitivities.
If your child is sensitive to sounds and loud noises, you might want to invest in some noise cancelling headphones just in case they are needed. Kids screaming and stuffed cats screeching can be too much, even for adults!
Plan a short early outing (with alternative activities).
To increase the likelihood of an enjoyable evening for all, keep the trick or treating to a short outing. Try going out a little earlier in the evening when there are fewer people outdoors and a bit of daylight remaining.
Alternatively, if the idea of going out for Halloween seems a little scary this year, you could always set up some fun Halloween activities for your child and a couple of other friends. A backyard scavenger hunt in search of delicious treats can be just as fun!
Happy Trick or Treating! 🎃