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Halloween Tips for Parents of Children with Autism

10-20-16-parent-halloween-tipsHalloween can be such a fun time! The costumes, the candy, and the excitement of trick-or-treating are all things that contribute to a festive atmosphere for many children. However, for some kids on the autism spectrum, the unpredictability of the holiday is the very thing that can make it quite a challenge.

It sounds so “simple” to say, but I think the important part is to pursue a positive experience, not a perfect one. Every child (with ASD or not) responds to holidays differently, and I think sometimes as parents, we put a lot of expectation on what we think their response should look like.

Follow your child’s lead, try to do what is fun for him/her and don’t be too hard on yourself. As a parent, my hope is that my children will remember that we tried to have fun together, not that everything was perfect all the time (if ever!).

Below I’ve listed a few not-so-rocket-science suggestions as well as some websites I’ve recommended to some of my clients’ families. Hopefully they can help add some peace to your fun holiday!

trick-or-treatIf trick or treating, plan ahead:

1. You may want to take nonedible items or preferred/approved candy to your neighbors ahead of time. Take the opportunity to let them know any strategies you’ve found that are comforting to your child to help increase the chance that the exchange will be a positive one. Something else to consider is letting them know the extent to which your child can participate in Trick or Treat. Does he/she use alternative means of communication? Can he/she hand the neighbor a sticker that says “trick or treat?

2. Consider doing a “trial run” where your child can practice with familiar family members or neighbors before the actual day of Halloween. If there is time, you can do this in the afternoon before it is dark or in the evening for a more “true” trick or treating practice time.

3. Have him/her try on the costume and live in it for a bit – maybe he/she would like to play around in your house for the afternoon to get used to the feel of the fabric. Some children prefer a simple Halloween or fall sweatshirt over the texture of a full costume.

10-20-16-halloween-with-ahss4. You might consider an alternative day or activity. At AHSS, we are holding an afternoon “trick-or-treating event” at our Northbrook Center and Headquarter office. This event will feature non-edible “treats” as well as empathetic, patient staff helpers. In addition, kids are encouraged to wear costumes, but will be included even if they prefer not to “dress up.” And at only an hour in length, the time for them to have to be “on” is shorter than a typical trick-or-treat outing. For more information about the AHSS trick or treating event, click here to download the flyer!

5. Other community organizations hold “trunk or treats” or alternative Halloween events that allow kids to wear their costumes and get prizes, but may reduce the amount of commotion and uncertainty. You can do a Google search for local festivities in your area!

blue-superhero-familySome more helpful references:

AHSS Care Team Member Bridgette Phillips also has a great recommendation:

A fresh way you could prepare the kids would be to provide Social Stories about what Halloween is and what happens when you trick or treat, while including what their expectations should be during the day.
They could include things such as: being appropriate, not tantruming over wanting all the candy (or not taking all of the candy if people leave it out for kids to take on their own), taking turns if you aren’t the only one at the door, saying trick or treat, and then saying thank you after receiving their treat. And of course, practice makes perfect!

Hope you are all having a wonderful autumn and have a safe and Happy Halloween!

by Tracy Crowe, Lead Speech-Language Pathologist, AHSS

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