Dressing up in costumes. Going trick or treating, door to door for free candy. Seeing spooky Halloween decorations. Getting together in small groups to celebrate the fall holiday. These all sound like fun Halloween traditions to most people, but to some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), social/behavioral problems or sensory issues, all of these things can be downright terrifying.
If you have a child who is scared of Halloween traditions or may not handle them with ease, don’t fret. Caity Russ, the Board-Certified Behavior Analyst Supervisor at Mindful Steps, has a few tips to help you and your children safely and successfully navigate the tricks and treats of Halloween.
Practice the Whole Process
No matter what activity you will engage in for Halloween, practice it ahead of time. If it includes wearing a costume, make sure your child is comfortable in his/her costume. Practice wearing it around the house.
If you plan to go trick or treating, practice that ahead of time too. Go over exactly what will happen, such as walking up to a house, saying “Trick or treat,” receiving a treat and saying “Thank you.” Practice will help your child remember the routine. It would be great if a neighbor or family member could host a mock Halloween so your child is able to experience trick or treating before the actual event. If real-world practicing is not possible, try watching trick or treating tutorial videos. There are a number that go through each step with children in costumes. It will help ease any anxiety your child may be experiencing.
A week or two before Halloween, talk about what it is and what occurs on that day. Say things like “Halloween is when we dress up,” “Halloween is when we go trick or treating,” “Halloween is when neighbors may put up spooky decorations or play spooky music; this is all pretend.”
Prepare your children for the appearance of costumes and groups of people walking through your neighborhood. To make it fun, really stress that it is all pretend and will be over the next day. By setting an end time, your child can prepare.
The same can be applied to trick or treating. If your child is unsure, set a number of houses to go to or a time limit. For instance, “We will trick or treat to five houses, and then you can come home and eat three pieces of candy.” Additionally, if your child uses a visual schedule or checklist, you can make one for trick or treating as well. Draw a map of the neighborhood and circle each house that you will go to. When each circle is filled in, you are done for the night! Children will be able to rely on the expected result to help get them through the process.
Say Bye to the Boo!
Halloween can be fun without it being scary. If you have children with ASD or sensory issues, take the fear factor out of Halloween. Do something different other than traditional Halloween events. Let your kid stay home and pass out candy instead of trick or treating in the dark if nighttime is scary for them. Have your family over for a candy swap or trick or treat throughout your house. There is plenty you can do in the safety of your own home that is fun for the whole family. If you are looking for family-friendly Halloween events, Northeast Ohio Parent magazine has a list for you!
Choose the Right Costume
Children with sensory issues can have a very hard time with costumes. They are often sensitive to fabric types, smells of makeup or masks, or wearing something on their heads like hats or wigs. It will be very important to consider your child’s particular comforts when choosing a Halloween costume this year.
Luckily, there are plenty of options for store-bought or DIY costumes. Some large retailers, such as Target, even have an accessible line of costumes that include sensory-friendly options. However, if you want simple ideas that you can do at home, Pinterest or Google have plenty of ideas. It can be as easy as drawing or painting a superhero or sports logo on a sweatshirt or just allowing them to wear their pajamas. The biggest thing is to ensure the child is comfortable and understands why they are wearing a costume and when they can take it off. By setting expectations and practicing, you will help your child have a safe and successful Halloween.
Are You Ready for Halloween?
Hopefully, these tips have helped you feel less anxious about the upcoming fall festivities. Just remember to abide by your own child’s comfort level. It is OK to motivate and push their boundaries as long as they still feel comfortable. The biggest thing is to follow their lead. And remember, if a meltdown happens, that’s OK. There’s always next year to try again!
One of the hardest things about Halloween is there are no clear expectations. But you can set your children up for success by naming expectations and preparing them for what to do or what will happen. Predictability is important, so the more you can practice and prepare your children before Halloween, the better the experience will be for everyone!
About Mindful Steps: The professionals at Mindful Steps can help children of all abilities to change socially significant behavior to a meaningful degree through the application of ABA Therapy. Socially significant behaviors that improve the life experiences of an individual can include social, language, academic, daily living, self-care, vocational and leisure activities.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based approach to understanding behavior. ABA refers to a set of principles that focus on how behaviors change or are affected by the environment, as well as how learning takes place. It is proven effective for a wide variety of children and issues.
For more information about Mindful Steps, visit https://mindfulstepscbi.com.