Halloween can sometimes be a little scary for parents and kids, and not just because of ghouls or goblins. Between the sights, sounds and change in schedule, Halloween can present some “tricky” experiences for kids with autism and other special needs. Practice and preparation can make a big difference in creating a fun and successful holiday experience. We use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) strategies every day to help our kids navigate new experiences, and these strategies are just as useful during special events and holidays such as Halloween. Here are four concepts that you can use to make trick-or-treating fun for your family:
Social stories should start at least a week before Halloween, for younger children this can be accomplished with a book or even a video about a child going trick-or-treating. The book or movie should match as closely as possible with the kind of experience you want to provide for your child. The parent should present the video or book alongside a scripted social story told from the child’s perspective.
Visual Supports & Schedule
Visual supports can include a sequence of pictures that reinforce the trick-or-treating activities. For example, in one photo the child in their Halloween costume, and then knocking at the door or waiting at the stoop, in the next photo. A third photo of the child receiving candy helps reinforce the repeated actions, and pay off of the outing. Having a schedule outlined and expectation clearly indicated, should reduce maladaptive behaviors and increase expected responses. These visual supports could be created during the practice sessions discussed later.
The last antecedent strategy is priming; before going trick-or-treating, parents should inform the child of the expectation and indicate that after these responses are completed they will receive candy.
To keep Halloween fun and exciting, and reduce possibly overwhelming experiences for parents and kids alike, going through several trial runs are helpful. Find some time where everyone in the family can dress up in their costumes and practice walking, waiting and receiving candy.
Halloween fun is possible with a little extra preparation!
– Elizabeth Jeffery-Arceneaux
As fall approaches, we get excited by the prospect of cool weather, warmly colored trees and the festivities that come with Halloween. However, selecting a comfortable Halloween costume for your child on the autism spectrum can sometimes be more of a trick than a treat. When selecting a costume there are three helpful things to keep in mind: types of fabric, the interest of your child, and how your child will react to wearing a costume, as well as seeing others in costume.
What do you do when your child has a favorite superhero, but the costume is anything but sensory friendly? Try decorating a regular t-shirt with fabric glue or a hot glue gun. You can also decorate comfy pants to match. Another option is to create your costume using clothing made from jersey fabric. The jersey material will be thinner than the t-shirt material so be mindful when applying glue.
When deciding what kind of costume to make, it’s a good idea to start with whatever your child enjoys the most. Is it Baby Shark? Outer space? ABC’s? Creating a costume tailored to your child’s specific interest will be both fun and highly-motivating for them.
Finally, preparing your child to wear their costume and see others in their costumes can be a difficult task. Familiarizing them with the Halloween festivities beforehand is a good way to ensure things will go smoothly. If you have any costumes around your home, show them to your child. You can also show your child pictures and videos of people in costumes or read them a social story about Halloween.
It may be Halloween, but choosing a costume doesn’t have to be scary!
– Kristen McElroy
Halloween is just a few short weeks away. As we prepare for the decorations and fun activities to come, now is the time to consider some ways you can help your child to have a happy and fun Halloween experience.
Know the route you plan to take on Halloween and practice the walk with your child before Halloween. Consider taking about 3 practice walks beginning 1 week before and leading up to the big day.
Let your child play out the scenario of trick or treating by walking up to a door, ringing the doorbell. Enlist a friendly neighbor to help you act it out, or practice at your own front door. Give candy! If you give them an actual piece of candy they will be way more excited about what is in store.
There are so many fun and creative costumes to choose from but be cautious about getting anything that may irritate your child, particularly sensitive areas around the ears, eyes or throat.
HAVE A BACK UP PLAN
Stay flexible on the day. If your child is not up for the outing, have a back-up plan that includes fun indoor activities.
Each holiday brings a certain magic and wonder. When you have a child with special needs, it can also bring extra effort, some anxiety, and the need to stay flexible (read: bail at any moment).
It is great when you come across a story or news item about people who just get it. Good folks of all ages who celebrate and include all children without judgment or fear.
As we approach this Halloween, we wanted to share this lovely anonymous advice to parents everywhere. We hope you will share so that we can all help make this Halloween magic for all!
“Tonight, a lot of creatures will visit your door. Be open minded. The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy might have poor fine motor skills. The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy might have motor planning issues. The child who does not say “trick or treat” or “thank you” might be painfully shy, non-verbal, or selectively mute. If you cannot understand their words, they may struggle with developmental apraxia of speech. They are thankful in their hearts and minds. The child who looks disappointed when he sees your bowl might have a life-threatening allergy. The child who isn’t wearing a costume at all might have SPD or autism. Be kind, be patient, smile, pretend you understand. It’s everyone’s Halloween. Make a parent feel good by making a big deal of their special child.”