For many kids, Halloween is a holiday they look forward to all year long — a chance to dress up, get in character, gather with friends, scare each other, laugh, let loose and collect their favorite candy during trick or treating.
However, for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Halloween is a very different experience, which is why it’s so important to get educated and practice Halloween safety for kids with autism.
Autism is not a singular condition, but rather a “broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication,” according to Autism Speaks. And it’s more common than you might realize. The CDC reports that autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States today.
Kids with autism struggle with the unfamiliar and the overwhelming. It can just be too much for them between the frightening costumes, eerie noises, bright lights, crazy decorations, and chaos of Halloween festivities.
Ways to keep the fun going and make it inclusive for everyone
Yes, tight costumes, face masks, scary sounds, and constant doorbell ringing can be a lot for a child on the autism spectrum, but there are ways to make Halloween fun and safe for everyone. These Halloween tips for children with autism are a great place to start as you prepare for October 31st.
First of all, the key is to practice and prepare long before the Halloween fun begins. Talk about what to expect and practice wearing their costume, so they know what it will feel like before they wear it out of the house.
Remember that while flashing lights and scary goblins are just for fun and might not affect some kids, they can be very overwhelming for children with sensory issues and can cause a great deal of stress. Remind your child that those decorations and sounds are just pretend and are not real. Show them similar decorations beforehand, so they are a bit more familiar with Halloween.
While you are trick or treating, if a house looks too overloaded with scary decorations or sounds, just skip it and move on to the next home with fewer sensory triggers.
It’s also a good idea to let other people know that your child is different from other trick-or-treaters and might need a more autism-friendly Halloween experience.
You can give your child a badge to wear so that candy-givers know that they may communicate differently than other trick-or-treaters.
At home, you can give visitors a heads up that your home is autism-friendly by posting a sign such as this one. That will let trick or treaters know to be respectful and limit how many times they ring the doorbell or minimize stimulation.
Another option that took off in 2019 is the blue bucket — an unofficial symbol of autism for children trick or treating.
The phenomenon took off when Alicia Plumer posted on her Facebook page that her 21-year-old son, who is autistic, would be using a blue bucket on Halloween.
“If you see someone who appears to be an adult dressed up to trick-or-treat this year carrying this blue bucket, he’s our son! His name is BJ & he is autistic. While he has the body of a 21-year-old, he loves Halloween,” she shared.
The blue buckets seem to be helping raise awareness and acceptance of children with autism on Halloween. “For those who choose to use them, the blue buckets could provide a subtle, dignified way of alerting people that this child or young adult may not be able to make eye contact, or tolerate wearing a mask, or even say ‘thank you,’ but they certainly deserve to enjoy the fun of Halloween as much as everyone else,” Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, told Newsweek.
Other important ideas that might be helpful:
- Create a schedule for trick or treating, including a visual map of where you will go and when.
- Stick to a simple costume without extra sensory features. Keep an extra change of clothes with you if your child is uncomfortable in their costume and needs to change.
- Have a designated adult to keep an eye on your child at all times to ensure they do not wander off or get lost. If they wander off, have a photo of your child in their costume with you to help identify them if they get lost.
- Trick or treat in a safe, familiar place, and keep the outing short so no one feels overwhelmed.
- Have cards to hand out when you trick or treat so that if your child has trouble communicating, you can let people know that they cannot say “trick or treat.”
- Bring headphones or earplugs in case noise becomes too loud or it’s too much for your child to handle.
- Practice receiving trick or treaters at your house, and if the doorbell and commotion of guests are too much, leave a bucket of candy outside for trick or treaters to take from.
- If trick or treating is too much to handle, you can create a Halloween scavenger hunt around your home or yard.