by Kristen Bettencourt, M.S.Ed, BCBA – Northeast Arc’s Autism ABA Services
Halloween is an exciting time of year for both children and adults of all ages! With all the excitement that comes with this fun fall holiday, it’s natural for children (and adults, too) to become overwhelmed, anxious or even over excited. The following is a list of ideas, preparations and tips that may help you have an incident-free and fun Halloween! (This list is not exhaustive by any means.)
• Before purchasing any costumes, consider your child’s sensory needs. Will specific fabrics, textiles, or accessories be sensory-friendly to your child? Think about what your child is most comfortable in on a typical day and try to incorporate that into the child’s Halloween costume.
• Once you have your costume, try to desensitize the whole experience by having the child wear the costume a couple of times in advance and troubleshoot any costume glitches before the big night.
• Everyone goes out on Halloween night, so prepare for it all. If your child is afraid of dogs, maybe discuss some problem-solving solutions if you happen upon a house with a big, barking dog.If your child is afraid of loud noises, maybe watch some videos and expose them in a controlled setting to some of the noises they might hear that night.
• Practice makes perfect! For those who can become easily excited, maybe ask a few neighbors to practice a couple nights in advance so they are used to the whole routine ahead of time.
• Set rules and expectations ahead of time! Set a limit on the number of candies your child can have in one night and follow through.
• Who doesn’t love eating candy as a nice evening treat? Use the candy as a reward and a reinforcer for getting your child to transition from the neighborhood back into the house. (Example: “First we walk with a calm body and calm voice and then we can have two candies when we’re home!”)
• For those who prefer to stay home and see all the fun and excitement from the comfort of their living room, prepare your child for constant doorbell ringing, scary costumes and safety concerns of opening and closing the door all night (especially for those who bolt!).
• Prepare siblings for a possible and sudden change of plans like ending early, helping support their sibling, etc.
• Role-play the trick-or-treating sequence with peers, family members, action figures, dolls, etc.!
• Create a social story so your child can understand the expectations in a more personalized and visual way.
• Set your child up for success! Start in small increments, especially for first-timers or younger children. Maybe you only do a few houses, or set a time for 10 minutes, etc.
• Have a plan. Talk to others in your family or support system about what to do if your child starts having a tantrum a block away or where to meet if anyone gets separated.
• Set rules. Tell your child before you set out what the expectations are — “We are going trick-or-treating and you need to stay within arm’s reach of Mom OR we have to go home — and stick to them!
• Have fun, be safe and be prepared for anything!