10 Tips to Support Children with Autism While Trick-or-Treating
1. Safety first! Halloween can be a scary time for parents of children with autism who may attempt to run or cross streets without understanding the consequences. Take extra adults with you if you need to, have your child in a wagon with a seat belt when traveling, use a tether/harness if your child is young and requires one, and try to stay in areas that have less traffic (e.g. a neighborhood cul-de-sac that tends to have little car traffic). Explain and demonstrate to your child how close they must stay to you. If your child has difficulty speaking, be sure they carry identification of some kind (e.g. safety tattoos that allow a parent to write their phone number, a wallet with a personal information card, a medical alert bracelet) in case of separation. Work on safety skills all year round so that every Halloween your little one can be even more independent and safe.
2. Consider displaying your autism awareness on yourself as a parent by wearing a small ribbon or button if you are comfortable doing so. Fortunately, many people recognize the rainbow-colored jigsaw ribbon that signals autism awareness, and they may understand your child’s needs more by seeing that cue.
3. Be flexible. While dressing up our children in cute costumes is part of the joy of parenting, our children may have difficulty wearing unfamiliar or uncomfortable costumes. Fortunately, there are many alternatives to heavy costumes, such as costume tee shirts, face painting (instead of masks), costume knit hats, and even pajamas! Let your child try their outfit on before Halloween so that they can be used to it when the day comes.
4. Know your child’s best time for trick or treating. Many children with autism may do just fine walking with crowds of children around, but others may want to go before the crowds begin or when they decrease. If your child has difficulty waiting in line for candy, going at “off peak” times may reduce the wait time. If your child is afraid of the dark, go during daylight hours.
5. Saying “trick or treat” out loud can be difficult for some children and not possible for others. As an alternative, you may wish to have a sign that says “trick or treat” on their candy tote or a card they hand out that says “trick or treat” on it.
6. If your child has difficulty accepting candy that is not preferred or is easily disappointed, have some alternatives that you bring along and do some “practice runs” before Halloween of what to do if you get candy you do not like (you can role play by having your child “trick or treat” at your own door). Having alternative snacks or toys with you is also a great idea if your child also has food allergies or sensitivities.
7. Use a visual schedule to show your child where you will be going (you can take pictures of familiar houses, street signs, or even take a video of the route you will take on your tablet/phone). Try using a timer to show your child just how long you will be trick-or-treating for (there are plenty of free visual timer apps available for smart phones and tablets).
8. Trick or treating does not have to be a marathon. Take breaks in between if you need to, and be prepared to call the night short if need be.
9. Expect and anticipate difficulty and have a backup plan. But don’t panic. I promise you, your child will not be the only one having behavioral difficulties on Halloween, it’s going to happen everywhere to kids with and without disabilities. Bring some calming activities with you as a proactive measure for children who are anxious or have difficulty waiting or walking (for example, headphones that your child can listen to favorite music, a squish ball to help them walk and wait in between houses, or a fold up chair so they can sit if they fatigue easily).
10. Enjoy what is special to your child on Halloween. Maybe it’s the handle of the pumpkin, maybe it’s the way they would rather have pretzels than candy, or maybe it’s that one blow up decoration they can’t stop looking at, but every child celebrates Halloween in their own unique way. As a parent, be sure to practice self-care by keeping other household demands lower on Halloween (yes, the laundry can wait until tomorrow!) and schedule time to take a break for yourself.