Many of us have fond childhood memories of Halloween. There is a lot to love about trick or treating and dressing up in costumes. But Halloween can also be a confusing holiday for some children. Who is really behind that mask? What is that strange sound suddenly coming from the neighbour’s house? Why do grown-ups say things like, “We don’t take candy from strangers…except tonight we do”?
Some children with autism find the sudden change in routines and rules to be challenging, especially when it comes to social expectations. Other autistic children have sensory profiles that mean those Halloween sights, sounds and textures can feel overwhelming. Some may delight in exploring a favourite character through a costume while others find even the most basic hat irritating to wear. With a bit of thoughtful planning, we can all play a role in including and supporting autistic children during Halloween, whatever their interests, challenges and abilities.
At a party
Are you hosting a Halloween celebration or taking kids to a Halloween party? Make sure there’s a quiet space at the gathering. That offers children a place to self-regulate or calm down if they feel overwhelmed. The quiet space doesn’t have to mean a boring space. Set up Halloween-themed puzzles, books, Lego or felt board sets. Sand and water touch tanks (you can use a deep mixing bowl, dish pan or bucket) filled with Halloween-themed treasures can be wonderful for children who seek tactile sensory experiences.
At the door
When it comes to greeting trick or treaters at the door, you might expect each child to take one piece of candy from the bowl, say thank you and leave. It’s not always that simple a procedure. Some of the ghosts and ghoulies who come knocking may have fine motor, language or cognitive differences. Refrain from judgmental comments. Simply compliment your young Halloween guests on their costumes and thank them for stopping by. It’s modeling good manners on your part, and it means a lot to the family members taking them from door to door.
Dietary restrictions and allergies are a part of everyday life for many of us now. Some autistic children may not be able to enjoy Halloween candy. Safe alternatives for your trick-or-treat bowls or party grab bags include Halloween-themed stickers, temporary tattoos, mini bottles of bubbles or small toys.
Preparing and priming a child ahead of a special event is a great strategy any time of year. Teachers, recreation leaders and other adults who want to support and include the autistic children in their community can access tools like short online videos, social stories or PECS to show them what costumes, games and other Halloween rituals are all about.
Open up the options
Remember, there are lots of creative, inclusive and fun ways to celebrate Halloween besides loud parties and going door to door. A visit to a pumpkin patch or decorating themed cupcakes might be just the right fit. Find out what a child’s interests are and include them in your plans to make this a truly happy Halloween.
Your turn: How do you ensure everyone’s included at Halloween? Tell us about it in the comment section below.