Halloween for children with autism

Bethany Sciortino

Halloween is considered among most kids as one of the best holidays of the year. Dressed up as their favorite character or superhero, kids are allowed to be something fantastical for an evening and go to strangers houses and ask for candy, the very thing kids are told not to do every other day of the year. Staying up late, children fill their mouths with chocolate and sweet delights and then, well past their bedtimes, succumb to a sugar coma. For kids with autism, however, Halloween often turns out to be much more tricky and not always a treat.

Most autistic children do not understand the concept of make-believe. Asking them to wear a costume to emulate that concept, one with rough fabric and constricting accessories or masks is a recipe for disaster. Getting an autistic child to approach a strangers home, much less to greet them with any sort of social appropriateness, is likely to cause extreme anxiety. And, if you get past steps one and two without inciting a riot, asking your child to hand over the candy he has just earned because he has diet limitations is sure to be the icing on the meltdown. You want your child to experience tradition as other kids do, especially if he has neuro-typical siblings, but you know that you are likely to be the scariest part of Halloween. So, what do you do?

Instead of putting on an elaborate costume, allow your child to put on a silly hat or a buy a Halloween themed t-shirt – anything that is nonthreatening and comfortable. Fore-go the trips to other peoples houses and let the silly witches and goblins come to you passing out candy on your porch. Keeping the area well lit will allow your child to observe without fear, and hopefully he will gain some understanding of the holiday by watching his peers do the trick-or-treating. If at anytime it becomes overwhelming, you can simply turn off your porch light and go inside.

If your child is a bit more high-functioning and able to tolerate the trick-or-treating, avoid over-stimulation by limiting his time. Carry a flashlight to help guide your path and bring a wagon if your child tires easily. Take earplugs in case the noise level of the other kids becomes overwhelming and bring a comfort toy should your child become upset.

If your child is on a restricted diet, you may want to consider making an exception for the evening. Most parents aren't quick to make that allowance, so you might have your child trade in his candy at the end of the evening for an outing he enjoys or a toy he has been wanting. You could also offer a monetary token for each piece of candy. For example, 10 cents for each piece of chocolate and 5 cents for each sugar candy. This will allow your child a choice to save in a piggy bank or use it towards a healthier purchase of his choice.

Halloween is a traditional holiday, but it doesn't have to be scary for you or your autistic child. You don't have to follow the rules and you are always free to create new traditions to work with your circumstances. Trick or treat!

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