What’s not to love about Halloween? Costumes, decorations, trick-or-treating and candy. Yet for children with autism, joining in on the holiday fun can present some challenges for kids and their parents—e.g. getting into costume, knocking on the doors of strangers, eating too much candy, etc.
So, how can parents keep the Halloween fun from turning into a stressor?
“Children with autism find comfort in routine. As much as they might want to participate in Halloween activities, it is somewhat of a departure from daily routine,” said Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, founder and director of Behavioral Concepts, Inc., a company of behavioral clinicians specializing in the care of children with autism in Central Massachusetts. “With some planning and careful consideration of Halloween activities, the holiday can be enjoyable for all.”
Dr. Robinson notes the sensory issues presented by putting on a costume. First, it’s quite possible the costume will be made of a different material than their day-to-day clothing. Next, a costume will probably require a different routine or motion from putting on their usual clothing items (e.g. pulling on a pair of tights needed for a Superman costume versus putting on a pair of jeans). Both can trigger frustration and stress.
As much as your child might want to put on a mask and outfit, it may not be worth the potential for stress. So, instead of wigs, special suits and masks, Dr. Robinson recommends keeping it simple. For example, maybe decorating a t-shirt to be a costume and face paint instead of a mask. Perhaps creating an outfit out of some of their older clothes so there is a comfort level and familiarity with the material and getting in and out of costume.
Socially, Halloween presents more challenges. Approaching neighbors, some who may not know your child, can increase anxiety. A pre-Halloween visit to houses you might be visiting is one way to ease your child’s anxiety about knocking on doors while trick-or-treating. This can also be a time to inquire as to what your neighbor will be passing out for treats and making sure it’s something that’s not a conflict with your child’s dietary needs if he or she has a restriction on sugar intake.
Timing is another key issue. If larger crowds create anxiety in your child, you may want to take him or her out trick-or-treating before or after the peak hours. If that’s not possible, you may want to consider waiting on the sidewalk for the crowd at the door to dissipate rather than getting in line.
Even with planning and preparation, the traditional Halloween may be too much for some children with autism. Dr. Robinson suggests creating new traditions.
Said Dr. Robinson, “The reality is that getting into costume and being out in the dark with other children in costume might create too much of a stressor for some children with autism. Let your child know that that’s okay. Then create some new Halloween traditions so they can enjoy the holiday. Those can range from creating Halloween arts and crafts, decorating the house or anything else you think might be fun.”
Based in Worcester, Mass. BCI provides much needed services to children with autism and their families. BCI instructional programs are delivered using discrete trial training, task analysis, and systematic prompting procedures implemented by ABA therapists who have successfully completed pre-service training, on-site, and quarterly evaluations by their clinical supervisors.
Instruction is provided across a variety of domains, included by not limited to: Activities of daily living, functional and augmentative communication, functional academics and community outings and safety awareness. Social skills groups with peer models are also offered as part of BCI’s services. A heavy emphasis is placed on generalization and maintenance of skills, in addition to family training, so that families may implement the supports and carry-over skills in the home.
For questions about programs offered by BCI, please visit www.bciaba.org or call 508-363-0200.
Post provided by Behavioral Concepts, Inc. (BCI)