How to keep Halloween fun for kids with special needs

If you think about it, Halloween can really be kind of scary, what with walking around in the dark among sometimes really freaky characters. So we reached out to Katie Taylor, a board certified behavior analyst and center manager for Autism Home Support in Northbrook, for some simple tips to keep things fun.

1 Prepare in advance 

If your kids can understand a social story, create one so they know what to do at Halloween parties and when out trick or treating. Think about potential pitfalls your child will experience and include them in the story. Also, don’t just assume they will be overwhelmed. Ask them if they’d like to have a role in Halloween, such as refilling the treat bowl or even helping hand out candy. “Have a conversation now so there’s time to plan for it,” Taylor says.

2 Pick what they like

When it comes to costumes, ignore what’s popular and focus on what fits in your child’s comfort zone. For example, if they don’t like things on their head, find a costume that doesn’t require a hat or hood. If they prefer wearing a track suit, make it part of the costume. “Halloween is not a good time to try new sensory things,” she says. Plan everything around what you know they like and get them excited about picking out their costume. “If they are really, really excited about a costume, they are more willing to try it.”

3 Trick or treating with a plan

A lot of parents might want to make the night of trick or tricking, but be honest with yourself in deciding how long your child can typically be in a new environment out of their comfort zone. “The last thing you want is to be three blocks away from home and your child melts down because they can’t handle it,” she says. If this is their first year, start small with just your block or street. If you go with siblings, plan to split up the group if needed and put dad, an aunt or grandmother in charge of one group so siblings do not miss out.

4 Stage a mock trick or treat

The day before Halloween, ask your neighbors to take part in a mock trick or treat that allows your child to practice without the pressure of the real thing. This way you’ll know what works and what doesn’t for them.

5 Add visuals

Even if your child can say ‘trick or treat’, it can be scary to say it when the door opens. Instead, create a ‘Trick or Treat’ card they can hand out to get their treat. A card takes the pressure off and doesn’t draw attention to the fact that your child has special needs, she says.

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