My son has always loved Halloween, which is odd because he has super high anxiety in addition to being on the autism spectrum, but it’s a holiday that we embrace every year, regardless of the hurdles (listed below). As always, each individual with autism is incredibly unique, so please take into consideration their abilities when planning this year’s Halloween festivities. Thank you for checking out out our tips on Autism and Halloween!
Dressing up is the best part of Halloween for many people. On this day, our kiddos who may be obsessed, or extremely passionate about a topic, can dress as a character or item they love and not be judged. If your child wants to be a Pokemon, MineCraft, a Princess, or a calculator or pizza, anything goes! Dressing as this preferred character is also motivating. The autistic person gets to be a part of themselves they love and share it with the world. How awesome is that?!?!
Take your child’s sensory sensibilities into account when designing the costume (if you get any say in the matter). If your child doesn’t like the feel of hats on their head, then they’re probably not going to like a mask or any top heavy portion of their costume. Will they like being in a cardboard box? Can they remove the costume to go to the bathroom? Is it itchy? Perhaps finding a light outfit for underneath the costume is important. Is the costume too heavy? Will it exhaust them to lug it around on their bodies? Or perhaps the added weight will be calming. You decide in advanced in order to make the Holiday as smooth as possible.
Find something they will be comfortable in for a long period of time. Wear the costume for days in advanced to prep for Halloween, or maybe even weeks ahead of time (plus it’s fun!). Heck, wear them all year if your kids like it!
How cool that we can incorporate fidgets, or props, to help our children with autism feel more comfortable during a possibly stressful social situation. If they’re dressed as a clown, they can hold bowling pins to juggle, or fidget balls. If they’re wearing a Mario costume, perhaps holding a game controller to play with while waiting for others at the door when Trick-or-Treating. I know I always like to hold a pen during a conference meeting, so give them a device that they find soothing and it gives them something to occupy their mind. Your OT would probably be helpful with ideas!
Some individuals with autism love Trick-or-Treating. They’re dressed as their awesome characters and feeling good, so perhaps a bit more brave to go door-to-door. One thing we do is make sure that we monitor any of the super scary houses that have someone that will jump out and give a good scare. While some people find that cool, my kid would have a heart attack and the night would be over. We try to keep a slow pace and watch the kids going ahead of us to monitor how “safe” a house is.
If your child is pretty impacted, but wants to Trick-or-Treat, you can always go early, just before the sun sets. You can make a little card explaining autism if you’d like to hand that out to help with awareness and acceptance. Most people are open and kind and love being able to help stressed out parents. You’d be pleasantly surprised. I know sometimes parents feel they need to explain whey they’re going early to beat crowds, or why their teenager is stimming. Try to be open to having a pleasant experience with your child.
If you know your child doesn’t have a lot of impulse control, perhaps you can be the candy keeper. When they go door-to-door, have them dump the candy they get in their little pumpkin into the pillow case you’re carrying. That way they won’t be so distracted about the chocolate bar they want to eat that they can keep moving forward. One year my son had so much chocolate in his mouth from cramming I thought he was going to choke.
I’ve also had those instances when my uncensored child told the person giving out candy that he didn’t like their choice of chocolate bars. Okay, so maybe more than once. And we’ve also had the experience of him telling them, “No thank you, he didn’t want to waste space in his pillow case with pretzels.” Be prepared for your child to be themselves and celebrate that. Don’t you wish you could be so honest sometimes? I’ve learned to embrace my now teenager’s blatant honestly, as long as it’s not hurting anyone’s feelings. It’s his truth and he speaks it. Rock on!
***I’m always stressing how important it is to eat a real meal before binging on sweets. Load your kiddo up on protein before the Halloween candy is even seen or smelled! Help them feel better and avoid a sugar meltdown.
Does your child’s school celebrate Halloween? Make sure to prep your child for what will be happening at school that day. Our elementary school would do a huge parade that all the students participated in. This was a total sensory nightmare for our child. The first year he did the parade clinging to his aide, and then for two years he refused to participate. As he got older, he started to enjoy it, but we didn’t force him to do anything he was having anxiety attacks over. He did love the parties inside the classroom where he felt safe. Monitor what is best for your child and go with it. If they feel most comfortable observing from the sidelines, great!
You know your family member with autism best. Do they typically enjoy birthday parties? Or family gatherings? School functions? There’s a good chance that the way they feel about these events will carry into any Halloween parties. Find out as much as you can before RSVPing. Is this a scary party where there will be frights arranged? Is this an organized event with games? Will the kids all be Trick-or-Treating together? Perhaps you can pick a time at the beginning or end of the party that you feel your child might enjoy and attend that portion.
If you do attend a party and it’s too overwhelming for your child, exit. I’ve walked out of parties when my child can’t handle it and I’m not sorry. Their well being comes first, and if it’s too much this year, try again next year. Take two cars with the rest of your family if they may want to stay and go home and watch a Casper the Friendly Ghost Movie or something your child will like. Read a Halloween book or something soothing. Take care of you.
While your child on the spectrum may want to Trick-or-Treat all night, I’d recommend setting a time limit and sticking to it. Perhaps not militant, but at least have a cut-off window. Otherwise you may pass the sensory point-of -no-return and the meltdown is just not worth it. Other times the melt down happens early in the night and try to be patient and understand and move past it. If your child has recovered, don’t stay stuck in the meltdown too. Take some deep breaths and move on, you’ll all feel better.
Setting time to go home and relax after Trick-or-Treating is a must for us. My son gets time to go through and cherry pick what he wants to keep of his candy (we donate most of it) and it gives him time to process the night. He’ll usually tell us all about the night, even though we were there and repeat a personal favorite portion of the night about 46 times. It’s good to let him get all of this pent of excitement out or he will never go to bed. We also have some trampoline jumping time to really get the heebie jeebies out (all the work he did holding it together in the Halloween crowds).
Maybe your child, teen, or young adult doesn’t want to participate in Halloween or finds it confusing. That’s okay too! Not everyone enjoys seeing goblins and scary zombies. To be honest, I don’t like it at all. I don’t like horror movies or shows or anything on the news that terrifying. No thank you! So be open to your child’s wishes. If they’re too scared to walk the crowded streets of Axe Murderers, then don’t do it.
Perhaps you can work on giving out candy with your child. Check to make sure it’s not a super scary costume, but let them give candy to the fairies, Spidermen, and adorable babies. They may enjoy that duty. Just make sure the candy isn’t all going into their mouths. If they’re in their costume, they may love letting the people that come to your door see their awesome costume. See what works for your family.
Sometimes, you or your child don’t even want to deal with Halloween. Shut your lights off and perhaps you can watch a different Holiday movie in a room furthest away from the street as to not be bothered by Trick-or-Treaters.
Sometimes it can be hard for kids to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. For example, do they think Spongebob and other cartoons are real and live in the sea? Does your child have a hard time telling the difference between their worlds in their imaginations or real life? Some of you know what I’m talking about. I have a Walter Mitty who often gets confused on what happened in his head versus what really happened here on earth. If you’re dealing with an imaginative one, then you know it’s important to keep reiterating to your child or teenager that Halloween is all pretend play, dress up and NOT real. We keep hitting the point that it’s like any other Holiday that is for one day and just for fun.
As a parent, it’s up to you to set the tone for Halloween. Do you decorate the outside of your house? (we don’t). Do you decorate the inside? (we do). What are your traditions that your family enjoys? I know for us, watching Halloween movies have helped prepare my child for the holiday. His favorites include, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Alvin and The Chipmunks Halloween,” and the Casper the Friendly Ghosts series.
While I’m always trying to push my son to try new things and to step out of him comfort zone, I don’t push so hard that he resists. His knee-jerk response is always NO, so I wait and ask if he’d like to do something again later when he’s had time to process. Or sometimes I’ll lead the way with no options, “We’re going Trick-or-Treating at 6pm,” giving him time to prepare himself for departure by trampoline jumping or pacing.
It’s about working together as a team to get the most out of your holiday.
Have any awesome Halloween tips that have been helpful for your kiddo on the spectrum? Please share with us and other families in the comments. Wishing you a Safe and Spooky Halloween.
Headed to Disneyland this Halloween? Check out our post on Disneyland Halloween here.
Our posts on Sensory Halloween and Sensory Halloween Costumes will be here next week! Like us on Facebook or sign up for a newsletter so you never miss a post. Jackie Linder Olson