Halloween can be tricky for trick-or-treaters with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and related conditions. It is outside of the normal routine, and there are lots of surprises. They may have difficulty knowing what behaviour is expected at Halloween. They may also have such rigid expectations that when someone acts a bit differently (giving out toothbrushes instead of candy, or asking them to sing a song), they may not know what to do. They may have difficulty communicating with a wide range of people. Children with ASD often have sensory issues which make wearing a costume difficult. However, with some planning and understanding, Halloween can be less tricky and more of a treat for everyone.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
Prepare your child for what will happen. Carol Gray’s social stories can help. Here is a blog post from Speech and Language Kids about how to create a social story for Halloween, with a sample story that you can modify for your child.
Talk to your child about expected behaviour. Look at books about Halloween and talk about what kids are expected to do, and what we expect adults to do.
Practice the language that you want them to use at Halloween. If they can talk, practice yelling “Trick or treat” and saying “Hello” and “Thank you.” If they are non-speaking, think about how they will communicate when they go door-to-door. Do you need to program a few phrases into their communication device, especially for Halloween? Would it help to have a little card to hand people that says “I can’t talk but I wanted to say ‘thank you'”? You can also find business cards that explain ASD here. This can help children even if they usually can talk to people, since they may find it more difficult to talk in such a stressful and novel situation!
Consider trick-or-treating at the mall or only at a few people’s houses. You can talk to people beforehand about your child’s needs and about how to make them feel comfortable. You can do this individually, or consider putting flyers in your neighbours’ mailboxes with a photo of your child and what will help them have a successful and joyful Halloween.
You could even stay home and trick-or-treat at home – you could pretend each room in the house is a different house and pass treats out. That way they can practice knocking on the door, saying “Trick or treat!” and being polite, but in the comfort of their own home with familiar people! (Thanks to Amy Lorraine Davidson for the home trick-or-treat suggestion!)
Another option is to stay home and hand out treats to kids who come to the door. What a great opportunity to practice greetings, compliments, and sharing. That could be an especially good option for children who need more predictability and control or who have trouble going up and down all those steps.
Let your child wear a costume that is comfortable for them. This may take some creativity! Some children do better with makeup, others with decorations stuck to their regular clothes.
Consider having a couple of practice runs before Halloween, too – where your child puts on a costume and goes to one or two friends’ houses. This will help prepare your child and may also make it more apparent what is likely to cause difficulties at Halloween.
As your children grow more independent, make sure that they know how to be safe. Here are Manitoba Public Insurance’s road safety rules:
- Look all ways for traffic before crossing the street.
- Never cross between parked cars.
- Always walk – never run – across the street.
- Take care when crossing at traffic signs and stop signs. Pedestrians should wait for approaching vehicles to come to a complete stop and wait for drivers to see them.
- Remember that cars cannot stop quickly in wet or icy conditions.
They also ask parents to be cautious of masks that may obscure a child’s vision and of dark costumes that may be difficult for drivers to see. Walk with your kids or have them travel in groups. (letter from MPI to Manitoba parents, 2015)
Happy Halloween from all of us at SpeechWorks Inc! We provide a variety of services for children and adults with ASD and their caregivers, including our Connect & Communicate groups for children and teens who have difficulty getting along with peers, individual therapy, and workshops for parents and professionals. Please contact us at 204-231-2165 or email@example.com to discuss our services.