Preparing for Halloween
Halloween, some adore the holiday, and some loathe it. If you have a child on the autism spectrum, you may either embrace the holiday or prefer to let it just pass by.
Our experiences have varied from year to year. We’ve gone from my autistic son being small and indulging us by wearing a puppy dog costume, to him not wanting to wear anything that isn’t part of his usual wardrobe (cargo pants and t-shirts). Once his sensory issues became more pronounced, I would make an effort to find something simple that could be easily worn over his regular clothes (slice of pizza was a winner and he wore that one several years in a row).
As a parent, you want your child to participate in things like other children. However, at what cost? Are you going to face possible meltdowns in the street because you insisted on them going trick or treating? Neither the caregiver nor the child will benefit from that situation.
Here are some things that have worked over the years for us and may work for your family as well. My child is now 17 and doesn’t really care about Halloween or trick or treating. However, if you presented him with a pillowcase of candy, he would be over the moon!
Trick or treat at friends or neighbours that are familiar with your child and their diversability.
As a parent, I always felt more relaxed this way. Especially when my son was in the habit of ringing a doorbell and then walking into the house to check out their interior design choices. 😋
Be reasonable in your expectations of what the night will look like.
You may have trick-or-treated for hours when you were your child’s age. Stop comparing your child’s experience to yours. If you only make it to a few houses, consider that a success! Sometimes, just the getting-out-of-the-house part can be the toughest.
Have a couple of treats in your pocket before you leave the house.
My child would want to eat candy when it was dropped in his plastic pumpkin. He didn’t understand why he had to wait until we got home. Either make sure that there are a couple of treats in your pocket that you can swap out for something he wants in his bowl, or take a few seconds to check the candy and let him/her have it. Screaming child on Mrs. Smith’s front lawn versus his/her face and costume smeared with chocolate? I would take the last option any day. 😋
Blue pumpkin or no blue pumpkin? That’s your choice.
If that option had been around when my son was trick or treating, it would have been easier for others to understand some of his actions. However, some people think it’s stigmatizing. Do what is right for your child and your family. Here’s a link to articles for and against the blue pumpkin campaign:
- Blue pumpkin meaning: How to make sure no one leaves your house unhappy this Halloween
Inviting stigma or squashing it? Use of blue pumpkins for trick-or-treaters with autism debated | CBC News
And here is our summary of the two arguments:
The Blue Pumpkin Debate: What you need to know
If your child wants to dress up:
Finding the right costume can be tricky is you have a sensory avoider. Prioritize comfort and be aware of sensory needs when helping your child choose a costume. Some materials may be itchy, smell weird or be uncomfortable for your child. Think about your child’s special interests when helping them choose a costume. For example, suggest that they dress up as their favorite superhero or other character. Allow your child to dress up in their preferred costume without judgment, no matter what their age. Have your child put on the costume a few times before Halloween so they get used to how it feels. Don’t use face painting or costumes that are challenging for your child’s sensory experience and think about getting the costume in a larger size so your child can wear their own clothes underneath.
If tricking treating isn’t an option, find alternatives
It’s okay to skip it! What matters is what works for you and your loved ones.
- Make fun, Halloween-themed food throughout the month.
- Attend drive-up or drive-through Halloween events.
- Buy a pinata, fill it with allergy-friendly candy/toys, and allow your kids to break it open on Halloween.
- Create a candy/toy scavenger hunt in your house or yard.
- Play sensory games with slime, squishy brains, etc.
- Make Halloween crafts to use as decorations.
- Have a not-so-scary family movie night complete with treats (tacanow.org, 2022).
Be kind. It’s okay if a child doesn’t say “Trick or Treat”.
Maybe the child doesn’t have the verbal skills, or perhaps they have anxiety about talking in front of others. If someone judges you or your child for not speaking, it might be time to cross that house off the Halloween route (in my opinion). However, if your child can verbally say “thank you” or show some signs of appreciation for receiving a treat, that is always a nice gesture.
Trick or Treat card by Autism Canada
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