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  • Writer's pictureCory Morrison

Autism: Halloween Challenges to Address

Table of Contents











Introduction


Autism can bring a host of challenges to children on Halloween. However, they can still have a great time. Relating to autism's symptoms, what are Halloween challenges I should be aware of when I prepare my child for the holiday? What were my Halloween days like? Read on.


Halloween Challenges


Social Skills and Isolation


Especially in smaller communities, it's common for friends to go trick-or-treating together. When we bond with people at school or work, it's only natural to want to do fun activities with them outside our professional environments.


Autistic people, however, may have a harder time relating to their peers, to the point of social isolation. If you factor this with seeing peers having a good time together on Halloween, there's no doubt jealousy can come into play.


How do I, as a parent, address this? When you take your child trick-r-treating, if you both run into someone you recognize from school, encourage them to talk to each other (if they like each other enough to say hi without prompting, that's great too) or see if you can both go with the group of friends. This will likely help the person feel happier socially, even if the other children didn't initially invite them.


With me, this wasn't a huge issue because I grew up in a large neighbourhood and many of the people I was acquainted with lived on the other side of it closer to my school (over a 5-minute drive). Plus, I was friends with people who were only a short walk away from me.


Sensory Issues


This can especially be a big challenge on the day for various reasons.


First, some lights and spooky noises can frighten autistic children (not always, as every person is different). Maybe it's the noise of a barking dog at a house they trick-or-treat at or the unexpected appearances and noises that animatronics make.


Whatever noises the child may be sensitive to, it will be crucial for you to prepare for what could happen when you consider whether you limit your child's trick-or-treating or not.


If you're not sure, you can ask yourself what noises your child has had negative, intense responses to in the past, and would those be present in any Halloween scenario. If it's just the school fire alarm and your child enjoys seeing ghosts on Scooby-Doo or any other related show or movie, they'll likely have no issues. If spooky noises frighten them to the point they dread Halloween, however, you may want to reconsider things.


Also, costumes that are sensory-friendly (not too itchy or are mask-free) will be important for you to look into.


For example, if the costume has facial hair that your child may fidget with or if they find dressing up as a character where wearing a mask as their face is required, it may be best to avoid these costumes.


I'll go into more detail about this in my next post, but growing up, I felt way more comfortable in costumes without a mask.


Something light that may not feel much different from sweaters or pyjamas and where there isn't too much face covering is probably your best bet. Again, every child is different, though.


Halloween items at my house. The middle photo is from 2019, and the other two are from 2017 (Photo credits: Cory Morrison).


Special Interests and Routines


It's entirely possible that your child may want to have things done a certain way on Halloween. This is because they often heavily prefer predictability in their environments and may not tolerate disruptions.


Halloween challenges such as going a different route than the child desires, eating something different for supper than what you normally have, or trick-or-treating much shorter or longer than usual will be things to keep a close eye on. The weather may or may not also play a role in this. Depending on the situation (are there sensory issues involved?), it will be essential for you to know whether you should make adjustments or discipline the child's behaviour.


When I was eight (my last Halloween at my first house), I made a strict routine that we must only trick-r-treat at homes around the block as mapping fixated me.


When my mother decided that we should finish our trick-or-treat journey by going across the street, I was mad that I didn't get to do my routine exactly how I wanted. Still, my irritation was mild enough (and not a sensory issue) that my mother taught me that we can do things differently and not always exactly as we want.


It was not a meltdown-type of situation; I was incredibly rigid.


Motor Coordination


Motor difficulties such as putting on a costume (be aware if it has things like laces or buttons), or keeping a bag open, wide and close enough for a person to put candy in (due to difficulty grasping objects) can be present in autistic children.


If your child has difficulty with laces or buttons and you buy or make them a costume with those things, don't ditch it entirely if the child likes it. Instead, you can help them, or if it is more their speed than the actual movements, accept that it may take longer for the child to put it on.


I almost always had my mother help me put on my costume as a kid because of my motor difficulties, but I didn't mind too much.


With the keeping bag open part, let the person handing out candy know that the child may have more difficulty keeping their bag open, or you can simply ask to hand the candy over to you and then put it in the child's bag when you finish at that home.


Conclusion


As long as you know how to support your child and have a great handle on Halloween challenges, you should have zero problems (or if they arise, they'll be gone quickly).


Despite Halloween's scary theme, it's meant to be fun more than anything. Pick out or knit a great costume, get them to bond with peers if they wish, do things how they want if there isn't extreme rigidness, and simply avoid distressing situations; they'll have a great time!


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