For any child or teen, Halloween can be a huge change from their daily routine. The spooky decorations, costumes, trick-or-treating and meeting new people can be overwhelming.
For kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with sensory sensitivities, Halloween can be even more frightening and challenging.
Dr. Jina Jang, a psychologist at the Thompson Autism and Neurodevelopmental Center at CHOC, advises families with kids with ASD to celebrate Halloween in whatever way works for them. Here, she offers parents advice to have a safe and fun Halloween.
Tips to help kids with ASD have a happy and safe Halloween
1. Have a Halloween dress rehearsal
If your child wants to celebrate Halloween by trick-or-treating or going to Halloween events, consider preparing early. Explain what your child can expect, such as:
- They may wear a Halloween costume that feels different from their normal clothes. The texture of the costume may feel uncomfortable, or the costume may feel too loose or too tight. Have your child try on their costume early so you can adjust if needed.
- Decorations around the neighborhood or at events may be spooky. Remind your child that they are just for fun and not real. Use these tips from CHOC to help calm your child’s nerves about Halloween.
- Trick-or-treating is not something that is part of your usual routine, and it can be overwhelming for kids with ASD. Try walking your trick-or-treating route ahead of time while explaining to your child about going up to the door and getting treats. Consider avoiding any homes with especially scary decorations.
2. Be safe while trick-or-treating and enjoying events
During trick or treating or other Halloween events, safety may be a big concern for kids with ASD. The darkness and spooky decorations may be overwhelming, and they may try to run away. To help, Dr. Jang suggests the following:
- Consider going early to trick-or-treat, so there is still some daylight.
- If your child is non-verbal, make sure they have ID on them that night.
- Use glow sticks to make you and your kids easily identifiable.
- Take a photo of your child in their costume at the beginning of the night so that you have a photo to show if your child is lost.
- Some families choose to use a blue Halloween candy bucket to promote awareness for trick-or-treaters with autism.
- Practice trick-or-treating safety precautions.
3. Consider more sensory-friendly Halloween activities
“If trick-or-treating is too much for your child, that’s OK,” says Dr. Jang.
She suggests doing what is right for your family, without fearing missing out. There are plenty of fun alternatives to trick-or-treating that may be more sensory-friendly for your kids with ASD.
Opt for other alternatives to trick-or-treating like trunk or treats, daytime community events or having a family fun night at home.
4. Practice trick-or-treating with your kids with ASD
For kids with ASD who want to trick-or-treat, Dr. Jang suggests practicing what they will do when they go up to the door. Consider using a social story (stories to help explain events and experiences to your kids) to help get your child familiar with a new event. This one from Autism Speaks may help.
For kids who are non-verbal, practice what they will do when they go up to a neighbor’s door. Some may hold their bags out for treats, or have a sign explaining that they are non-verbal and may not say “trick or treat!” Print CHOC’s download of a trick-or-treating sign for your non-verbal child below.
5. Swap out candy for small toys for autistic kids on special diets
Kids on special diets may not be able to eat and enjoy Halloween candy. Dr. Jang suggests that parents prepare ahead of time and bring some mini toys or stickers that they can swap out for candy.
“Some parents have chosen to go along their trick-or-treating route ahead of time to pass out candy alternatives that neighbors can give their kids,” says Dr. Jang. “But I don’t want to add more work for parents. Do something easy. Put some little toys or stickers in your pocket and swap them out for the candy that your child can’t eat.”
6. Remember to celebrate your child with ASD this Halloween
Let your child embrace this fun time, encourages Dr. Jang. They may want to dress up like one of their favorite characters, even if that character isn’t age-appropriate. Don’t worry too much about what others will think. Halloween is the perfect occasion to celebrate your kids and what they like.
Dr. Jang and the entire team at CHOC wish your family a safe and fun Halloween! Just by reading this article, you are already doing a great job. Try not to feel pressured about having the perfect holiday, and just enjoy your kids and this festive time.
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The Thompson Autism and Neurodevelopmental and Neurodevelopmental Center at CHOC is dedicated to bringing the latest treatments and resources to the autism community in Orange County.