“A great first recommendation that I talk with families about all the time, regardless of holiday, is if their children are receiving any therapies, any sort of therapy related to having a child on the autism spectrum, that they can talk with their child’s therapist or practice party routines during therapy,” she said. “A lot of therapeutic clinics have holiday celebrations where they may walk around and practice trick-or-treating before the actual day.”
Booth said parents should have open communication with therapists about how their child succeeded during the simulation and how they can repeat that at home on the holiday.
“Some children with autism thrive in a party atmosphere,” Hendrix said, “and some are overwhelmed or they prefer to do things more independently. But I think the idea of practice, whether it be through therapeutic support or school-based support, or even at home, is right.”
She suggested dressing your child in a costume and going to a couple of houses. “Let’s do it. Let’s do it and talk through it and see how that goes,” she said, “even within a 10 to 15 minute timeframe. Was that really challenging for your child? Or did it seem to go pretty well?”
Booth stressed that no matter how much planning and practice you do, when it comes time for the actual event, you need to be flexible.
“Halloween, or whatever the holiday, is when there’s a lot more people out and a lot more noise and stimuli,” she said. “If we need to cut it short, that’s OK. Success can look really different year to year, and holiday to holiday. We want people to have some of these tips to find what success looks like for their family.”
Costumes can be another challenge for children, Brooks and Hendrix said.
Family and caregivers generally are aware of fabrics and accessories a child tends to stay away from or be uncomfortable in because of different sensory needs, Booth said.
“But we still have plenty of time between now and Halloween to practice or try out the costumes,” she said. She recommends picking a character costume your child has a strong interest in.
“But even if it’s having a routine of wearing it on the weekends or letting children get comfortable in it, I think practice will definitely help,” she said. “Make it a fun routine of putting the costume on and practice walking around the neighborhood a little bit. I think that’ll make caregivers feel more confident, the child feel more confident, and probably bring a smile to all the neighbors.”
For some kids who are sensitive to their face or head being touched, you’ll want to avoid masks, Hendrix said. “In general Halloween costumes are not the most comfortable fabrics for any of us. So maybe we wear pajamas with those characters on them.”
If you’re still unsure how to prepare your child, Booth recommends checking out one of the many support groups for parents and caregivers who have a child on the autism spectrum.
“Those support groups can be wonderful resources for caregivers to connect with other people who have lots of experience doing this,” she said. You can also find community events around the holidays that are geared for children on the autism spectrum.
The important thing to remember, Hendrix said, is “this is all about creating meaningful traditions for your family that are fun for everyone. Sometimes traditions that work for other families don’t work for yours, and that’s entirely fine as long as we’re finding a match of what the child enjoys and what the family would like to get out of a holiday.”
Safety tips for trick-or-treating fun for children with autism spectrum disorder
- Avoid scratchy costumes, face painting and masks, especially if your child has texture sensitivities. Remember to have your child try on the costume in advance and practice wearing it at home.
- Practice at home by having your child knock on the door to say “trick-or-treat” and giving them healthy goodies. If need be, limit the amount of time spent or number of places your child will visit.
- If your child has trouble communicating, have them hand out cards to the people who answer the doors at the houses they visit. Bring along useful supplies such as a flashlight for safety, earplugs or earphones to block out loud noises, and a favorite item for comfort.
- Practice greeting trick-or-treaters at your door and giving out or receiving candy. Or, if you’re worried visitors might come too late, leave a basket of treats on the porch with instructions not to ring your doorbell.
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