Holidays can be so stressful for families with children on the Autism Spectrum, especially Halloween! Here are some tips and tricks we plan to use with both of our autistic girls in preparation for “Trick or Treat” this year.
Number One. Prepare.
I cannot say this enough. Sometimes children on the spectrum have a hard time with new things, new places, and new people. Halloween and trick or treating have all of those things. New costumes, new houses, seeing people dressed up as someone else. It can be very overwhelming and cause a lot of anxiety in our kids.
But, preparing your child as best as you can will set them up for success. This doesn’t mean that your night will be flawless, but it does mean that the better you prepare, the better the outcome will be.
Number Two. Try on the costumes before Halloween night.
There is nothing more irritating than putting on a costume for the first time to realize that there is a scratchy tag in the back, or the sleeves are too tight, or it’s the wrong color. Grab your costumes a week in advance. Let your children “practice” wearing them. This helps them get used to the look, feel, and overall presence of a costume.
Try the make-up, the face painting, and the hats. Try it all! If you need to, do multiple test runs. This prepares your child to know exactly what everything will look and feel like.
Maybe they will love it? Maybe they will hate it? But it’s best to know long before Halloween night when everyone’s trying to get out the door quickly.
Number Three. Make a map.
Are you going to walk around one neighborhood or try multiple? Try printing out a map for your kiddo, so that during your trick or treating time they will know how many houses they are going to and what to expect when they get to this neighborhood.
This also makes it fun! If they are having a hard time with the trick or treating part, this may help them refocus and get excited about a countdown. Maybe they want to count up and remember exactly how many houses they got to visit that night.
Number Four. Social Stories!
What’s a social story? In the autism world, a lot of families show their children social stories in order to prepare them for something coming soon, like going to the dentist, or learning to use the potty. These visuals, which are usually cartoons or even books, can really prepare your child.
Think about it. If you didn’t know what to expect while trick or treating, wouldn’t you want someone to explain that to you? And wouldn’t it be a little easier if there was a show you could watch or a book you could read that told you exactly what to do and how to do it?
These social stories help with so many things and can even help your child think of questions to ask you about trick or treating long before that night, so they’ll feel even more prepared!
Number Five. Come up with an escape plan.
No one wants to assume their child is going to need one, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes our autistic kids can get through a holiday night without a hitch, and sometimes it’s all just too much. Even with all the preparation.
So, come up with an escape plan. Maybe that means deciding who the “escape parent” is, and who will stay with the rest of the kids to finish out the night. Maybe that means the whole family comes up with a code word and once that word is said, it’s time to pack up and go. And maybe that just means your child who is struggling will hang out with someone in the car while everyone finishes up.
Have a plan. Because IF you need it, you’ll be glad you’re not scrambling around trying to figure out what to do, and you’re able to help your child who just needs to get out of there.
Holidays are hard because even though some things are “traditional,” there are still so many different elements and changes each year. Most autistic kids appreciate structure and knowing exactly what to expect. I know both of my girls do.
Prepare. Try on the costume. Make a map. Tell a social story. Have an escape plan. And have FUN trick or treating this year!