Halloween ushers in the unofficial beginning of what many think of as “the holiday season”. Halloween, for many kids on the autism spectrum however, can be more stress than fun. Trying new things, and eating new foods (which sadly even includes candy) is not on the top of their lists. Many autistic children spend very littlle, to no time thinking about dressing up, and sometimes will select the same costume several years in a row. Anxiety can get out of hand. So doing your typical Halloween activities like trick-or-treating, hayrides, and haunted houses either doesn’t happen or is a challenge.
When it comes to trick-or-treating, parents have discovered one of the problems is that autistic children don’t understand the idea of knocking on a door of a house they aren’t going into. The act of knocking on the doors of unfamiliar houses also makes them nervous. However, trick-or-treating has a script, so it can be practiced. (Otherwise, many kids can confuse the order of ‘thank you’ and ‘trick-or-treat’.)
If you have already attempted Halloween with less than stellar results, there are a few things you can try in order to have a more successful Halloween this year. One place to start is in your own home. Begin with running the script of knocking on the door, saying ‘trick-or-treat’, then ‘thank you’ after receiving the treat. You can practice knocking on doors in your own house.
The next activity you may want to consider is finding a Halloween event in a town where they close the main street for trick-or-treating, or a trick-or-trunk event. Some towns or businesses will close the road or a parking lot so all the kids can walk around and go from store to store (or trunk to trunk) trick-or-treating. Halloween music is sometimes played in the background and some towns will even host a Halloween parade. There is no knocking on doors since the people would just be outside with their baskets of goodies. Since you are in an enclosed area, it is also safer for kids who have a tendency to wander or run.
Flashlights or spinners are a good thing to bring with you when trick-or-treating. Visual Autistic kids love these items all times of the year. The added light often helps kids who get anxious in the dark. You should also make sure the costume is not itchy or a bad texture for kids with sensory issues. I suggest you perform a ‘dress rehearsal’ in advance so if needed you can make alterations for a more comfortable Halloween night.
Another option is to consider a small Halloween party in your home. Although they may not prefer to stay home every year, some kids will experience triggers that replay bad memories from a previous stressful Halloween. If you can arrange a small, fun party with loved ones, they may begin to associate Halloween with positive feelings.
Avoid becoming frustrated or upset in front of your child due to stress, it only makes things worse. Disappointment is understandable, but just remember to treat yourself kindly.
If you really love Halloween, and want to celebrate in a big way, consider going to a theme park. If possible, schedule a short vacation around the holiday. Many parks celebrate all month long! All Discovery Parks, like Sea World and Busch Gardens, are decorated for fall and some have trick-or-treat events as well. A few examples are Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA and Sea World in Orlando. Howl-O-Scream at both Busch Gardens parks are lovely to visit during the day, but would be too scary for most in the evening. Mickey’s Not Too Scary Halloween Party at Disney is of course child-friendly, both day and night. And it’s the one time of year that you can dress in costume too!