Costumes, candy and trick-or-treating can be too much excitement for kids with autism. Plan ahead to keep this holiday safe and fun.
Halloween is a holiday full of imaginative fun, being with friends, dressing up and, of course, collecting treats. But for a child who has autism, some Halloween traditions—like wearing a costume, going trick-or-treating or even hearing the doorbell ring repeatedly—may be challenging.
Planning ahead can help make the day successful and safe for the entire family. We’ve put together a few ideas to help make the occasion a treat for your child this year.
- Keep it comfortable—and easy. Avoid scratchy costumes by making something festive for your child to wear out of a fleece hoodie or cozy pajamas.
- Avoid face painting and masks, especially if your child has texture sensitivities.
- Have your child try on the costume in advance and practice wearing it at home.
- Keep an extra change of clothes on hand in case your child becomes uncomfortable and wants to remove the costume.
- Role-play for up to a few weeks beforehand. Practice at home by having your child knock on the door to say “trick or treat” and giving her healthy goodies.
- Create a visual story of what Halloween may be like for your child, with pictures or drawings.
- If need be, limit the amount of time spent or number of places your child will visit.
- If your child has trouble communicating, have her hand out cards to the people who answer the doors at the houses she visits, and maybe even use the time as an opportunity to spread autism awareness.
- Bring along useful supplies such as a flashlight for safety, earplugs or earphones to block out loud noises, and a favorite item for comfort.
- If you don’t want your child to have candy or sweets, consider bringing along wrapped snacks or other small treats like stickers, matchbox cars or plastic animals to have others give your child.
- When allowing your child to eat candy, be sure to monitor treats for dietary restrictions or allergies.
- One way to enjoy the holiday without overindulging is to allow your child to pick one piece of candy each day to have with snack or after a meal.
- Ask your child to choose her favorite candy to keep and trade the rest for a small gift, special privileges or time to do something she enjoys.
- You may have some neighbors who are also concerned about sweets. Plan with them to hand out healthy pre-packaged snacks, stickers, coupons or other nonfood treats.
- Practice greeting people at your door and giving out or receiving candy.
- If you think the hustle and bustle might be too much for your child, 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.
- It’s OK to cut things off early. Turn off your porch light and lock your door when your child’s had enough.
Halloween can be a great source of fun for kids, but there’s also no need to push it. Have your child join in, but only if she wants to. If any of the celebrations are not something you both enjoy, don’t feel obligated to participate.
Visit choa.org/halloween for more tips on having a safe and healthy Halloween.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.