Halloween should be a fun night of costumes, candy, and decorations, but for children on the autism spectrum, Halloween can mean uncomfortable costumes, food sensitivities, and scary decorations - all of which can lead to a night that seems more "trick" than "treat." Ensuring that both you and your child know what to expect from Halloween can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying the holiday.
Halloween may look different this year, but whether your family is participating in trunk-or-treating, fall activities, or traditional trick-or-treating, here are a few tips and tricks to follow that can help your family enjoy a successful Halloween.
Dress for Success
Dressing up in a costume for Halloween can be exciting, but it can be troublesome for some children who have sensory needs. When it comes to picking out a costume for or with your child, pay special attention to fabrics. Just as certain materials may cause irritation for a child, so can face paint, masks, and temporary tattoos.
If your child finds a costume that they are excited about, having them try on the costume a few times before the big day can help them get used to the feeling of the costume. Likewise, if your child finds that their costume is bothering them during these "try on" sessions, this gives you an opportunity to help them find another, more comfortable costume before Halloween.
Online parenting forums and Pinterest can help you find inspiration for simple DIY costumes. However, if you are interested in buying a costume, Target is a great place to start. As well as providing inclusive costumes for wheelchair users, Target also has lines of clothing designed for sensory sensitivities.
Some parents of children with special sensory needs find that it's best to buy or make a costume that is a few sizes larger than necessary so that their child can wear their regular clothing underneath. This can give your child a sense of comfort, as well as provide them with a barrier between themselves and their costume.
Sometimes, the easiest, most comfortable option for your child is opting to not wear a costume! While dressing up may seem like a staple for Halloween, it certainly isn't required: children are free to wear their regular, everyday clothes. Another way to help children get into the Halloween spirit without wearing a costume is to provide them with some kind of fun prop or decorations! This can be anything from a fun, spooky Halloween inspired candy bag, to decorating the wagons or strollers you use during trick-or-treating.
While we wish that everyone practiced inclusivity, it's the unfortunate truth that some Halloween activities will not be sensory-friendly. During trick-or-treating, some candy-givers expect children to verbalize or behave according to their expectations. Outfitting your child with a badge that identifies special needs can help you avoid some uncomfortable situations and help you ensure that your child's Halloween is a positive experience. You can also hand out these Halloween Trick-Or-Treat cards provided by the National Autism Association.
In addition to having sensitivities to the textures of candy, it's not uncommon for children with autism to also experience food allergies. Whether you're the parent of a child who has food sensitivities, or want to do your best to provide other trick-or-treaters with inclusive options, it helps to be aware of the meaning of a teal pumpkin.
In 2014, the Teal Pumpkin Project was founded to create a safer environment for children who have special dietary needs. Carrying a teal pumpkin indicates that a child has special dietary needs, and placing a teal pumpkin on your doorstep will tell other parents that you have non-food trick-or-treating items available.
Likewise, another increasingly popular trend is to have children with autism carry a blue pumpkin. Just be aware that some might not be aware of the message you're trying to communicate, so making efforts to spread the word about the meanings of these pumpkins can be beneficial!
Spooky Sights and Sounds
Prepare for scares
Halloween can mean different things to different people. For some, Halloween is a chance to watch "Hocus Pocus," eat candy, and dress up as their favorite superhero. For others, it can mean scary movies, scary masks, and scaring others. Whether you're attending a strictly family-friendly Halloween event, or are trick-or-treating in a neighborhood with kids and teens alike, it's recommended that you prepare your child for some scary sights.
Spooky music, fake spiders, masks, skeletons, face paint, strobe lights, fog machines, mechanized decorations, and other common Halloween sights and sounds can be frightening for children on the autism spectrum.
While not fool-proof, one of the best ways to prepare your child for Halloween is to explain more about the holiday beforehand. We recommend using Autism Speaks' free resource, "All About Halloween." This is a story that explains typical Halloween costumes and activities - and it can be personalized with your own text and photos! Preparing your child for spooky sights and sounds can make Halloween more predictable, and in turn, less scary.
Celebrate an Untraditional Halloween
Halloween is what you make of it!
Plenty of families celebrate untraditional holidays, so if your family's ideal Halloween doesn't include trick-or-treating, that's okay! There are plenty of other Halloween inspired activities you and your family can enjoy.
Here are a few ideas:
- Carve pumpkins (consider drawing or painting artificial pumpkins for a less messy option)
- Watch family-friendly Halloween or fall-themed movies
- Have your kiddo help you hand out candy to other Trick-Or-Treaters
- Bake spooky cookies or treats
- Make a few Halloween crafts
- Explore other sensory-friendly activities in your area