5 tips for helping kids with autism enjoy Halloween

While the spooks, sights and sounds of Halloween can be a treat for many children, those affected by a sensory disorder may be too overwhelmed to join in the holiday fun.

But there are ways to include kids with sensory issues in the festivities. By preparing ahead of time and tailoring the day to your kid’s needs, Halloween can still be part of your family’s traditions. The American Occupational Therapy Association offers these tips to make Halloween less of a scare for families with sensory issues:

Prepare for the day.

Halloween traditions often clash with family rules, like taking candy from strangers. To help kids prepare for these unusual holiday practices, try talking with them beforehand about what to expect and why it’s okay. Events like an unexpected “boo” shouted their way or changes in their food routine can be challenging for some children. Reviewing and rehearsing the activities through stories, songs, and pictures will help your child anticipate activities and enjoy them.

Make costumes safe, comfortable, and imaginative.

Before heading to the store, review costume guidelines with kids to prevent in-store tantrums. Children should wear costumes a few days before Halloween to test their comfort level when walking, reaching, and sitting. Try to avoid costumes with masks or exposed tags and elastic parks. And remember the weather: will your child be willing to wear a coat over his costume? Make-up may also feel slimy, and its smell may be off-putting. Will your child think the fabric is too scratchy, tight, slippery, or stiff?

Our own tip is to try a simple DIY project. You and your child can choose a costume to create together. By choosing your own fabrics and materials, you can make sure your child is comfortable all night. (Be sure to visit our Halloween pinboard for a few ideas)

Trick-or-Treating can be pleasant, up to a point.

Practice trick-or-treating ahead of time. Walk to your own front door and practice receiving candy. Many neighborhoods now ask families to go around to houses before dark and trick-or-treating before dusk could help your child feel more comfortable. Consider trick-or-treating on quiet streets or only at homes of family and friends and skip homes with flashing lights, loud noises, and especially scary decorations.

Cater to your child’s strengths throughout the day.

Some children will seek opportunities to touch spooky “eyeballs” and pumpkin innards because they enjoy touching squishy textures while other children will prefer to keep their hands dry by decorating jack-o-lanterns with stickers and markers rather than carving. Plan ahead of time by figuring out what activities the party you’re attending will have. There’s usually a way to include every child. For example, someone who may not like bobbing for apples could participate by putting the apples in the bucket.

There’s no place like home.

Know when to head back and count the candy. Pay attention to your child’s behavior and body language for signs of sensory overload. And don’t forget that often, children like handing out the candy just as much as receiving it.

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