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Five Tips and Tricks for a Safe and Sweet Halloween with your Child with Autism

by Amy Kelly, Director of Family & Community Services, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health

As a mother of three children – including a daughter who has severe autism – I understand all too well about the challenges holidays bring, including Halloween.

Halloween can create a unique set of issues to individuals living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The following tips can help guide you and your family to a safe and sweet Halloween this season!

  1. SAFETY: Not all kids with autism are comfortable with the dark – especially walking around at night. Use flashlights, glow sticks and light-up sneakers to make it more fun and safe. Before you go, snap a picture of your child in his or her costume with your cell phone so you have the most up to date picture – in case your child wanders off. And don't forget, there's safety in numbers. Try to trick-or-treat with another family to have an extra set of eyes, ears and hands to help out.
  2. STRATEGY: Kids with autism do better when they have a routine and know what to expect. Plan the route you will walk ahead of time, which neighbors and houses you will visit, and practice walking the route a day or two before the event. Also, create a back-up plan to stop or address an emergency tantrum should something unexpected arise. If your child is especially low tone or doesn’t have a lot of stamina for walking, limit the number of houses you visit while it's still fun – and before you get to the exhaustion stage.
  3. SOCIAL SKILLS: The first few years I took her trick or treating, my daughter would just waltz into our neighbors’ homes after ringing their doorbell and stuff her cute face with candy. She did not understand that the open door wasn’t an invitation to come inside. Teaching proper social etiquette is a very important part of a successful Halloween, including: not entering the house, not taking more than one or two pieces of candy, and always using manners.
  4. SCRIPTING: Have you ever thought about what the words “trick or treat” really mean? Your child with ASD may ask this question. If he or she is into history, Google the phrase and look up the origin of this saying. You can also work on teaching your child to say “trick or treat” to the best of his or her ability. If your child can’t speak, teach him or her to hold out the candy bag while you say it (to feel successful), and to remember their manners by saying (or signing) “thank you.” Make it work for them, whatever version that looks like.
  5. SENSORY: Halloween is all about the costume, which can pose a huge difficulty for our kids on the spectrum with sensory issues. If your child is open to wearing a costume, try to find a looser, more comfortable costume – perhaps one that fits over more comfortable clothing. If they just can't handle a costume, don't fret … a unique shirt or hat works just fine! And feel free to wear no costume. Many people are quick to understand that some kids just can't handle it. And if you’re comfortable, it could be an opportunity for autism awareness. (“My daughter Annie has autism and doesn’t like to dress up, but she sure likes candy!”)

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