5 Halloween Hacks for Kids on the Spectrum

Halloween is a fun holiday, especially for kids. There’s something special about becoming a princess or a pirate and displaying your awesome getup to the neighborhood. And the candy. Can’t forget the candy! Those on the autism spectrum, however, may find Halloween to be a little tricky (pun not intended). From new styles of clothing to speaking with strangers, it can all be a little overwhelming. If you and your family choose to do something fun on Halloween, here are some tips for making it a little easier.

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1. Take It Easy

If you plan to go trick-or-treating, consider stopping by just a few houses and call it a night. With light-up decorations, car headlights, creepy music, and swarms of kids and parents, the sights and sounds on this spooky night can easily get overwhelming. Your child may be happier, not to mention safer, by keeping it short and sweet.

2. Be Choosy About Costumes

Children with autism often have sensory issues, and Halloween costumes can be uncomfortable (which is strange, considering how much they cost!). That’s why it’s important to be careful about costuming. Let your child try some on before making a purchase. If they don’t like it, claim to be uncomfortable, or appear to be uncomfortable in any way, you may want to put it back on the rack.

You can also dress your child in comfy street clothes and purchase a decorative accessory, like fairy wings or a fancy cowboy hat (bonus: they will stay warm if you live in a cold climate). Or if you’re a whiz with a sewing machine, you can even make a costume that fits your child’s preferences.

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Some with autism may not want to wear a costume at all. If that is the case with your son or daughter, let them do as they please.

3. Practice and Prepare

If trick-or-treating is on your Halloween agenda, consider preparing your child with a bit of role playing. Practice ringing the doorbell, saying “trick or treat,” and saying “thank you.” The big night may be a little less intimidating if your child knows what to do.

If your little one is nonverbal or has limited speech, consider printing out something like this and using a safety pin to attach it to their shirt.

If you do not plan to trick-or-treat but still want to do a fun activity, giving your child the day’s rundown through visuals can also be helpful.

4. Safety First

Halloween safety is extra important for those on the spectrum, particularly because they have a tendency to wander when overwhelmed. Hold your child’s hand at all times, remind them not to leave your side, or bring a few extra people to help you keep an eye on them. Visiting fewer houses may also prevent sensory overload.

If you’re going out at night, don’t forget to carry flashlights or wear bright or reflective clothing. Cars need to be able to see you!

5. Provide Treats for Neighbors

Some kids with autism have dietary needs and can’t always eat the candy provided. If yours is one of them, consider buying little toys or knick-knacks and distributing them to neighbors, explaining the situation, describing what your child looks like or will be wearing, and asking them to give the item to your child.

Alternatively, the brilliant minds over at Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) have devised the Teal Pumpkin Project, through which participants provide something other than candy for those with allergies or dietary needs. Here’s how it works: participants buy non-food goodies for trick-or-treaters, along with candy. They then paint a pumpkin teal and place it outside their house. Those who are in on the initiative will know that it’s a safe house to visit. You can spread awareness about this project and encourage neighbors to participate.

Both options have their own strengths. Buying goodies for your child will ensure your child gets something they will like; the Teal Pumpkin Project benefits other children with needs or restrictions. Whatever you choose, it will surely be the right decision for you.

What are your tips for having a sensory-friendly Halloween?

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A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.