Halloween can be a challenging time for those with autism, as new or unexpected situations arise. Preparing and planning for the day can help reduce anxiety and challenging behaviours which may present as a result of confusion surrounding the event, including sensory issues or communication and social difficulties.
Creating a guide leading up to the events surrounding the day using photos and/or videos can help those with autism visualise what is going to happen. For children who wish to go trick or treating, there are plenty of YouTube videos you can use to show examples of the types of costumes they are likely to see on other trick or treaters, and what people may say to them when they answer the door – but be sure to explain that some people may not be home and therefore there may be some houses where your child’s knock on the door is not answered.
You might wish to use social stories to practice responses to certain questions they are likely to be asked about their costume or phrases that they may hear, and explain that although they may have particular preferences about which sweets they do/do not like, they will receive a range of different treats.
It’s also a good idea to carry out a walkthrough of the route you plan to take in advance, pointing out which houses you will stop at and which you won’t so that there won’t be any surprises or scares.
As children with Autism and/or Sensory-Processing Disorder can be very particular about their clothing choices and comfort, make sure to choose a costume together that does not include any disliked fabrics, colours, tags or textures, and allow them to try it on before the event itself so that it feels more familiar. If your child is finding wearing a costume stressful, consider complementing their favourite comfortable outfit with a cape or hat.
The Halloween period can include parties with music, bright lights, loud noises and ‘spooky’ sights or sounds which can be distressing for those with Autism and/or social difficulties who may not be used to the atmosphere. Again, a visual guide and social stories are a good way to prepare for what is likely to happen throughout the day, but not all children are going to be comfortable taking part. It might be that they are more comfortable getting involved in the festivities in another way, such as handing out sweets to trick or treaters or simply watching them from the window. If your child would prefer to stay at home, ensure they are prepared in advance for knocks on the door and loud noises, so that they can be as relaxed as possible throughout the evening.
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