Helping Children with Autism Have a Safe and Happy Halloween
Halloween can be a stressful time for children who have autism spectrum disorder and their parents. The experts on autism spectrum disorder at DePelchin Children's Center explan why and share helpful strategies for parents to use so all children feel included in this fun holiday.
Reasons Halloween is stressful for children who have autism spectrum disorder and their parents:
• Sensory overload: Children with autism spectrum disorder can be easily overwhelmed, and exposure to crowds trick or treating, sounds of people or decorations making spooky noises, and of course dietary changes with sugary treats can be difficult for kids on the spectrum.
• Social relating: Children with autism spectrum disorder struggle in knowing how to respond when they are trick or treating and with people are asking them questions as they open the door. They don’t understand why they would say something silly like “trick or treat” or how to respond if someone asks “what are you for Halloween”
• Nonverbal/Verbal issues: Children with autism spectrum disorder sometimes struggle with nonverbal/verbal issues. These are challenges that people who are around them everyday have grown to understand how to manage. With Halloween, parents are introducing a lot of new people to their child that may not know how best to respond or interact with them. Consequently a child with autism spectrum disorder may get more frustrated with what should be the enjoyment of Halloween.
Here are some strategies developed by the experts at DePelchin Children’s Center to help make sure kids on the autism spectrum feel included, thus helping parents to enjoy the holiday too:
1. Create a specific social story that reflects what your child should expect on Halloween in very specific terms:
• Explain to your child: “We are going to go door to door; we are going to knock on the door; someone is going to come and open the door and they will have a container of candy”
• Create a visual schedule with pictures of how all of these steps will tie in together
2. Practice the social story by role playing and doing a walk-through of how Halloween activities and trick or treating will happen.
• Practice the common holiday phrase “trick or treat”
• Explain how your child should respond when they are handed candy
• Explain that some people may give them candy they do not like and help them understand how to respond in those specific instances too
3. Children with nonverbal programs or devices that are used to communicate:
• Parents should program communications devices to say trick or treat
4. If your child is not able to or does not want to trick or treat, practice how they will help you hand out candy
• Practice the door bell ringing and opening the door
• Practice holding the candy basket and giving pieces of candy out to put in bags
5. Dietary restrictions
• If your child has dietary restrictions and is unable to participate in getting candy from houses, a helpful idea is for parents to go to 5 houses ahead of time and give them a special candy or treat to give out to your child. This way your child can be included in the festivities but will not know the difference.
6. Decide ahead of time the number of houses you will be going to with your child.
• Let your child know your expectations ahead of time whether it is only 3 or 5 houses
• Help them to understand where the houses are located so they have more of a sense of control throughout the process.