Halloween is hands down one of our favorite holidays! Roo loves that she gets to dress up and get candy, and I love watching her work on her social skills through trick-or-treating. However, as a parent with a child on the spectrum, Halloween can be filled with unforeseen pitfalls and potential for a meltdown. To help tackle triggers head on, here are 5 tips to consider when Trick-or-Treating on the Spectrum:
Costumes are, in Roo’s opinion, the best part about Halloween, and I have to agree with her. Being able to dress up as your favorite character, animal, or even food and then parade around in said costume is lots of fun. However, when you are living life on the spectrum, there are other things to consider beyond if your child wants to be a tub of popcorn or a princess.
Because costumes are typically a one-time use they are not made with the best materials, this can mean itchy fabrics or scratchy Velcro closures. One of the ways to tackle this problem is to think outside of the box for costume choices. Take, for example; last Halloween Roo wanted to be Maui from Moana. First of all the costume was hard to find, to begin with, but the ones I did see had fabric leaves for the grass skirt that I knew Roo was going to become either entranced or irritated with. Alternatively, I was able to find soft Maui pajamas that looked almost identical to the costumes on the market. From there we added accessories and voila… Maui!
Other alternatives include using character hoodies as a costume. Roo has a Rainbow Dash hoodie that has a mane on top so if she chose to wear the hoodie she would be in character, and it is also great for layering.
Another costume consideration is your geographic location and the temperature during trick-or-treating. If your child is sensitive to colder temperatures, you can purchase the costume a size or two larger, this will allow for you to build layers of clothing underneath the costume to keep them warm, and will also combat any fabric irritation from the costume.
If your child wants to be a character that requires a mask be mindful of the potential for reduced visibility and the string in the back of the mask. Purchase your costume early so that your child can get comfortable wearing the mask.
Trick-or-treating has changed so much since I was a kid. I remember we would rush home from school, wait until those first glimpses of sunset appeared, race to change into our costumes, and then our mom would turn us loose in the neighborhood to collect our treats. Things have changed and going door to door may not be the safest option depending on your community. Thankfully there are usually alternative events offered in the weeks leading up to Halloween as well as the night itself. Which is great because if your child has a difficult time with loud noises, scary masks, or crowds they can attend events on days leading up to Halloween to reduce sensory overload.
If you attend a Halloween event on 10/31 be sure to consider whether it will be a trunk or treat outside or going store to store in an indoor space such as a mall. Roo seems to prefer the outside events as there is more open space and less auditory stimulation.
If your child has limited verbal skills or is non-verbal Halloween can be a stressful time for both of you. Adults who are unaware or uneducated about the differences in children may expect older children to say those 3 magic words when requesting candy, which can make for a long an exhausting night after explaining to each person that your child has autism and cannot speak. An alternative that I have seen in several of my online support groups are candy bags that state that your child is non-verbal.
If your child has co-existing disabilities such as ADHD, you may be iffy on the candy front. Our rule is that Roo can trick-or-treat to her heart’s content, but she is only allowed to pick 3 pieces of candy: 1 to eat Halloween night and the other 2 later in the week. We then encourage *cough cough* bribe her to sell her candy. Some communities even have a candy buyback operation, this allows for that candy temptation to be lifted, and your child can use their money to pick out a toy or other non-candy treat.
Other potential alternatives are spotting houses with teal pumpkins outside. This is a beacon of hope for parents with children who have food allergies. The teal pumpkin indicates that the house is giving out non-candy or food items to make sure that all children are included in the spooky fun.
Schedule change preparations
As I am sure you already know, children on the spectrum can become quite rigid in their schedule expectations, and when there are changes, this it can cause a host of issues. Your first thought would be that Halloween is something fun so schedule changes will be welcomed, but that may not always be the case. Be sure to prep your child starting about 3-5 days in advance that Halloween is coming. We do this in the form of a Halloween countdown will allow for your child to get used to the idea that they will be wearing a costume and that the evening routine will change. Another reminder the morning before school is incredibly helpful, and if they have a reminder system like the Octopus watch, then you can log in and adjust the schedule so that they can feel reassured that they know what is going on. Not only can this help alleviate anxiety leading up to Halloween, but it gives ample time for questions and adjustment for your child.
Remember to have fun, bring your noise-reducing headphones, and go with the flow. Halloween is the less rigid of the coming holidays so lose those expectations but also be sure to have a bailout plan in case your child gets overwhelmed or overstimulated.