Halloween is an exciting time of year for families. If you are a family that includes a child with Autism, it may also be a time of trepidation. Here are some tips to help this holiday be fun and less stressful for all your family.
1. Costumes - Let your child pick out their costume by viewing pictures on line, in stores or in catalogues. Do this about a month ahead of time to leave plenty of time to try on the costume, making sure it is comfortable for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Avoid costumes that include props to carry, thick masks or heavy make-up.
2. Trick or Treat Routine - Halloween night can be a bit scary for all of our kids, but especially so for our children with Autism. Help prepare them for the night of trick or treating by practicing the routine and scenarios at least 1-2 weeks ahead of time. This can be done by role playing around the house or neighborhood (ringing the doorbell, carrying a bag, saying trick or treat and thank you), watching videos of trick or treating on line or writing out the steps or taking pictures and rehearsing them.
3. Candy/Treats - Some children with Autism may have food allergies. If this is your child, try to go to friends or neighbors houses that you know and prepare them ahead of time to give out stickers, little toys, etc. If that is not a viable option, bring a bag of approved items with you and either pass them to the adult giving out the goodies right when they ring the doorbell or switch out the non-allowed items later.
4. Safety - As parents, we are always worried about the safety of our children. For parents with a child with Autism, that worry may increase as some children are severely speech impaired or may engage in a behavior called “elopement” or running away. Go to familiar, brightly lit neighborhoods and bring a flashlight. Place a sticker on the back of their costume with their name and your cell phone number. Consider bringing a whistle and practicing ahead of time to respond to the sound by following it. Periodically remind your child during trick or treating that they must stay with you.
5. Exit Strategy - Bring a spouse, family member or friend with you, don’t try to trick or treat alone! Plan for the trick or treating to last no more than 30 minutes. If it’s their first time, maybe just plan to go to 2-3 houses nearby and walk back home ending on a good note. If you are driving, consider bringing 2 cars so that if things are not going well, you can take that child home and the other children can continue having fun. Oh yeah, fun…let’s not forget the reason we are doing all of this is to have fun with your family!
I cannot believe that it has been 10 years since I opened CTAC! When we opened in 2003, there were no centers offering ABA Therapy and VB Therapy for children with Autism in Central Texas.