With only two days to go until the trick-or-treaters are out and about, I thought a few thoughts about Halloween might be in order.
Remember, Halloween is meant to be a fun holiday for kids but that doesn’t mean it will be as many parents who have already been through this know. Many kids with Autism or those with sensory issues may find this holiday particularly difficult.
Let’s look at the various confounding issues that this holiday presents:
Let’s start with SOUNDS: Spooky sounds, unusual sounds, loud sounds, sounds that seem to come ‘out of no where’ as you approach people’s homes and the ever popular “BOO! intended to scare the ‘heebe geebees’ out of you, can be rather upsetting to those who are easily overwhelmed or over stimulated by such input. Wearing earplugs, ear buds can be helpful here.
Next there are the SIGHTS: Pumpkins with flickering lights, people who move quickly, crowds that jam together at a front door and bump into you, and of course, people dressed up with masks and costumes intending to scare you. Are we having fun yet????
How about the COSTUMES: Many kids don’t like the idea of wearing a costume whether it’s because of the idea of it or the feel of it. I remember a child I worked with that when I was attempting to teach him about pretend play he freaked out when asked to put on a fireman’s hat because he thought he would turn into the fireman and he wanted to remain himself. Other kids like the idea of the costume only to find out it doesn’t feel very good once it’s on. And, then of course, there’s the whole make up idea or mask. Let the kids try on different things and play around with what makes them comfortable.
Can’t forget the whole LANGUAGE thing. After all, you’re supposed to say ‘trick or treat’ to get the candy? What about those kids who have difficulty with this aspect of the holiday? For some, you can practice it and the rote phrase is easily repeated, for others, they can’t or won’t say the words. That’s okay. Don’t force the issue. They may need a sign, or a friend or parent to help them. More often than not, people answering the door don’t demand too much.
Now there’s the whole thing about the CANDY. Some kids are on special diets and being tempted by the candy can be confusing or just plain mean! If your kids can’t have candy (or you choose for them not to have it), and they want to participate in trick or treating, you may want to negotiate with them BEFORE you go out.
An idea to address this issue may be to take their candy to the local boys and girls club, food pantry or fireman’s station to share with those who didn’t get an opportunity to trick or treat might be welcomed. Ask your child to come up with an idea for where he can take the candy to share with others. At the other end are the kids who can have the candy and decide that taking what is given graciously is simply not their thing. Seeing a different candy in the bowl, reaching for it, or requesting more than one piece can be issues. Practice and discussion about what to expect is really important in keeping the kids expectations in check. Role-play before you go out the various situations that may occur so your child can be somewhat prepared.
Participating in some of the traditional activities of Halloween may also be difficult for some kids. Carving the pumpkin, especially digging out the seeds in that gooey mess is not likely to be something most kids with sensory issues will enjoy. Sitting around and listening to ghost stories is also a potential no-win situation as some kids may analyze the stories and explain why the story doesn’t make sense, or other’s may simply be too scared and have nightmares afterwards.
Remember, it’s meant to be fun not stressful for the kids. If they don’t want to go out, no problem. Maybe they’ll enjoy giving out candy from your home. But maybe not! Let them decide and be flexible if they change their mind. If they do want to participate in the ‘trick-or-treat’ tradition, have a back up plan for them to ‘escape’ if they wish.
Don’t have one parent take all the kids together and not be able to call it a night if your child reaches his or her maximum. For others, you may have to limit the trick-or-treating to familiar homes or just drive to different friends’ or relatives’ homes who will be supportive and make the evening fun for everyone.