4 Best Halloween Tips and Tricks for Kids with Autism and SPD
Trick or treating at Halloween can become stickier than a pile of melted fun-sized Snickers bars when you have a child with sensory issues. The crowds, noises, costumes, and smells can be a lot to handle; not to mention the constant pressure of social interactions while going door to door asking for candy. If dealing with SPD, autism, or ADHD is your biggest concern this Halloween, here are some tips to make it a fun day for you and your child.
1. Practice your trick or treating route before hand
Knowing the day’s expectations ahead of time can be a huge stress reliever for your child. Sit the family down and discuss all of the planned upon events of the day and get your child’s input. Once you have an agreed upon agenda, take a practice run. While this is time consuming, allowing your child to see the environments they will be exposed to on Halloween will help them mentally prepare for the day.
Remember that Halloween is a chaotic and confusing time. Not only are there unusual crowds and surprises, but the multitude of costumes present extra confusion and rarity to a new situation. Especially when dealing with an autistic child who takes social situations in a literal manner, be aware that the costumes and fantasy involved with Halloween may be off putting.
Walk around the neighborhood with your child and familiarize them with the houses they will be walking up to. If you are personable with your neighbors, remind your child of who lives in each house and recount positive interactions you’ve had with them in the past.
This is also a great chance for role play. Talk with your child about how trick or treating works and practice a “script” they can follow as they go door to door. Leaving as much unpredictability out of the social part of trick or treating as possible will go far in alieving your child’s unease of interacting with so many people on Halloween.
2. Have a Backup Costume Ready
You may know that your child doesn’t like scratchy sleeves, reflective fabrics, claustrophobic masks, or pant seems. Yet, your child begged you to be a Power Ranger this year and you had no choice but to give in.
When that Power Ranger costume becomes inevitably aggravating and temper tantrum worthy, be sure to have a backup to turn to. This could be as simple as making up a magical story surrounding your child’s favorite hoodie and sweatpants or pretending that a set of noise cancelling headphones is a FBI secret agent communication system. Get creative with the everyday clothing and objects that make your child more relaxed and turn them into fabulous Halloween costumes.
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3. Incorporate a comfort item into your child’s costume
The last tip leads us perfectly into the next. If your child has a comfort item, such as a stuffed animal or a blanket, be creative about working it into your child’s costume. Maybe your child is a circus ring master and their favorite stuffed tiger is a part of the show. Maybe your child’s favorite blanket suddenly turns into a superhero cape on Halloween night.
By being creative about turning your child’s comfort item into an element of their costume, you’re allowing them to be more relaxed, while also relieving them of the shyness they may feel about carrying this object around with them otherwise. The value of having this comfort item at hand should not be understated. Given the busyness of trick or treating and the social pressures of approaching numerous doors, your child may crave the familiarity and comfort of their favorite item and this could make a huge difference in having a successful Halloween.
4. Allow for a Few SOcial Passes
If trick or treating is a part of your routine, Halloween is a holiday that carries with it a large degree of social pressure. Walking door to door, for hours, talking to strangers and asking them for candy is a large social undertaking for any child, let alone a child with autism or SPD.
In many ways, trick or treating is a great opportunity to practice the social skills you’ve already been working on with your child. Maybe you’re trying to improve skills around eye contact when greeting people, or saying thank you and good bye when a conversation is over. Use your trick or treating neighborhood as a social classroom, giving your child opportunities to become more comfortable with their social abilities.
That being said, interacting with so many strangers can create a lot of social anxiety for your child. While it’s beneficial to use trick or treating as an opportunity to work on social skills, realize that your child may need time away from the social world. Prior to the day, agree upon a signal between you and your child that alerts you to their need for a break. When you see the signal, maybe you take charge of interacting with the people at the next house you visit, or you take a break by the curb and count candy. Decide what would be a good “social pass” for your child and be sure to honor it. While it’s important that your child be challenged to explore new social situations, it’s also important that they can trust you to honor their needs for relief from that as well.
While Halloween can be a stressful time when you have a child with autism, SPD, or other sensory issues, proper preparation can relieve a lot of the anxiety and worry. Take some time to consider your child’s unique needs and start problem solving ways to address them within the context of your Halloween plans. It may not be perfect, but implementing a few simple strategies can help make your Halloween a success. And, if you’re looking to turn Halloween into a therapeutic experience, check out the post on Using Halloween Candy to Tackle Food Sensitivities and Picky Eating.