We are extremely happy to share this guest article written by Jen Brown, the parent of a young learner at Easterseals Olympic Peninsula Autism Center. For many children with autism, the holidays and the traditions that come along with them can be overwhelming at times. This year, keep these tips in mind when buying costumes, trick-or-treating, and navigating the spooky world of Halloween.
Here it comes! Another holiday full of challenges, changes, and a little chaos. Every holiday presents different challenges and Halloween can be especially difficult. In our house, Halloween used to be a bit of a literal scary nightmare, but over the years we have learned what needed to be done to turn this holiday into a favorite.
Costume choice is essential. Comfort is extremely important! The first successful costume we have ever had was a skeleton sweatshirt and sweat pants, because it felt like regular clothes. Which brings me to when to purchase costumes: The sooner the better! Take time to let a child get used to the feeling of a costume so it really does feel like regular clothes on the big day. Don’t be a last minute costume buyer who ends up with a screaming three year-old dressed like parrot, while you are wondering what went wrong.
Plan ahead with a therapist and at home, practicing for the big trick-or-treat. This is a tricky social skill, and on a typical day, knocking on a door means going inside. Expecting a literal mind to know that Halloween night is different without practice just might backfire, so take time and do all you can to establish the difference and explain why Halloween is special. Books, social stories, apps, or a favorite holiday movie will help. The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown was a huge help for me.
It is okay to avoid the common events so many attend such as trick-or-treating at malls or parties. Unless you have a child that handles crowds easily, these things can ruin a holiday quickly. On the other hand, it’s also okay to try (with a good escape plan) just in case. Weather can sometimes interrupt the night. So, if that happens, try to pick something indoors that is not packed full of people. Going to events early can sometimes help to get ahead of the crowds.
Spend the holiday with people who get things are different! Plan an event or trick-or-treat with other autism families, or other families who understand autism. This is also a great opportunity to share your holiday tips and learn from others!
You don’t have to inform anyone who opens a door while trick or treating your child has autism, no matter what happens. No matter how many houses my son tried to walk into, how many doors opened and he didn’t speak, and how much guidance he needed - I never explained his autism to anyone and no one ever treated him like they needed explanation.
Halloween can be very scary and regardless of what anyone tells you, kids with autism are full of imagination all day long. Don’t ever assume that a scary pumpkin is irrelevant. To your child, it is very relevant. If a decoration is too scary, don’t push it. Move on to the next house and keep the fun going.
Let them guide you. Let go of what everyone else is doing and just watch, follow, and adjust! If your child trick-or-treats at one house, celebrate that one success and watch the next year unfold into a few more houses.
Number eight is the most important and something to remember no matter what challenge you are facing. If you don’t try you will never know! Don’t ever assume or give into the idea that something will not work or be too overwhelming to attempt. Even if that may be true, our kids deserve opportunities and the chance to prove it can be done. Exposure to life experiences is essential, not to mention a lot of fun when it works!
Happy Halloween and good luck to all on this first holiday of the season. Never give up, stay patient, and don’t feel bad for putting that candy bag up quickly. Autism or not, candy crash is not fun for anyone!