Happy Halloween?

It’s October, the air is crisp, the leaves are turning, and October 31st is approaching. Yes, Halloween is quickly approaching. Nothing strikes fear and confusion into a child with autism more than the confusing events surrounding Halloween. Let’s analyze:

1. That’s not the rule. As parents, we spend all year trying to teach our child the concept of “stranger danger”. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t go to a stranger’s house. Don’t take candy from a stranger. EXCEPT ON OCTOBER 31? Nothing confuses rule-governed individuals more than small deviations from the rules. Before Halloween, read social stories with your child; go over the holiday specific rules; show him/her a calendar and highlight the date to make everything more visual; write the date specific rules on the calendar.

2. Is it real or make believe? Some children on the spectrum can’t separate between fantasy and reality or understand the concept of pretend. Children are people dressed up as ghosts, goblins, dogs, cats, superheros. Go figure! Before Halloween, read books and social stories; work on pretend skills; allow them to dress up as their favorite character or animal; do a dress rehearsal.

3. Sensory overload. Many children with Autism have sensory issues. Some children have olfactory sensitivities and the smells of Halloween can send them into a meltdown. Some children have tactile sensitivities and are asked to wear itchy costumes. The costumes are frequently too hot or too cold. Some children have audio sensitivity and the loud boos, moans, laughter, and voices can also cause a high level of uncomfortability for our children. Plan your route. Only go to homes with small to no crowds and minimal to no blinking lights or loud noises. Allow your child to chose a costume even if it is just a tee shirt or character pajamas. Stay away from masks and makeup if necessary.

4. Makes me sick and makes me angry. Many of our children experience gastrointestinal issues and/or food issues. Introducing them to different foods/candies for just one night could induce stomach issues or allergic reactions. Denying candy could lead to tantrums. Many of our children also have co-morbid diagnosis including seizure disorder. Bright lights or twinkling lights can cause seizures. Stay away from homes and children with blinking lights. Pre-plan your route. Give your trusted neighbors dietary safe food items ahead of time or carry some with you.

5. Let’s deviate from schedule and transition. Many of our children thrive on sameness. Halloween festivities usually occur in the evening when their routine is impacted. Also, think of all the many transitions involved in trick or treating or the more recent safer version, trunk or treat. Allow your child to help plan their route. Utilize first/then or even a list of the order of visits. Limit time out trick or treating. Allow your child to stay home and possibly give out candy to participate yet limit transitions. Watching others do it this year may lead to desire to participate further next year.

6. Social and behavioral nightmare. Many of our children want to socialize but experience language and social skill deficits. Still others experience anxiety when pushed into social situations. Many of our children also have issues with walking with adults, holding hands, or coming when called. Let’s not forget that we have to check their candy so even if the child were to behavior request the candy, as parents, we would have to deny the candy until we can check it for safety. Denied access especially after appropriately requesting or a delay in access could lead to tantrums. Go over rules first including candy safe rules and walking with adults rules. Read/write social stories. Carry candy with you. Allow your child to choose “buddies” to walk with. Teach and practice holding hands and walking with adults before Halloween. Check into/apply for Project Lifesaver.

Here at Paragon, we assist our clients with social skills, cooperation, and communication skills. We also work with parents to develop antecedent and consequence strategies to accommodate and assimilate into holidays and traditions. Some antecedent and consequence strategies are listed in the blocks below.

If you have any questions on Applied Behavior Analysis, Paragon Autism Services, or how we can help your child reach their potential in areas such as: communication, socialization, cooperation, recreation/leisure, or self-help skills, just to name a few, please don’t hesitate to call the office at 540-479-3889 or talk to our staff at any of our free Outreach events. Our Outreach events are open to anyone with a diagnosis of Intellectual Disability, Developmental Delay, and/or Autism and their families.