Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Welcome To My Nightmare

The holiday for harrowing ghouls is fast upon us, and if you are the parent of an autistic child it could mean the heartache of another bad Halloween. I was thinking about Halloween earlier this week and decided that I would find some tips on making it a little easier for someone on the spectrum. I began to search for some of those tips, and I’m going to share them with you and some anecdotes from years past.

1.      “Use videos and books to prepare your child for Halloween expectations. There are many Halloween options out there, so choose the ones that are most like your own real-life situation.” One of Konner’s favorite movies lately has been “A Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”. If your child has a movie that they like that has a Halloween theme you may want to watch it with them and explain the right things and wrong things that they are doing.

2.      “Together, decide what costume your child will choose. Take into account not only his or her preferences, but also sensory concerns. For example, a Spiderman costume may include a full mask - which can become overwhelming. Some children love face paint, but others can't take the sticky sensation.” It’s probably a good idea to try things out ahead of time just to make sure they like what they are going to have to wear. The paint is usually a bad idea for any child, but especially someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Konner doesn’t like to wear hats or anything on his face. We try to work around that as much as possible. The National Autism Resources website suggested some alternatives to fancy costumes that I thought were pretty smart.

·         A soft t-shirt with the words: “This is my costume”

·         Let your child dress up as a “Smartie Pants” using a favorite pair of pants with “Smarties” candies taped all over them.

·         Dog Catcher – Let your child wear their favorite shirt with a name tag that says “Dog Catcher” then place a small stuffed dog with his head peeking out of their trick or treat bag.

  1. “Make a plan that you can stick to. Choose a time to leave the house, plan a path, and know what will happen when you come home (can he dump the candy on the floor? What may he or she eat? If the candy is not a good choice, what substitute treat will she get?).” Konner is not allowed to have gum after a sticky situation with his hair last year. We make sure to let him know that we have to take all the gum out before he can have his candy.

4.      “Keep it simple. Knowing your child, what's reasonable to expect? If he can handle just one house, that's fine. Know that, even when you see other kids running up and down the street, it may not be the right choice for your child.” For any holiday our families know that we work with what Konner can handle. We may have to leave early depending on what kind of day Konner is having. We’ve had to leave early from Christmas before, and they know that if he’s having a bad night they may not see him on Halloween.

5.      “Create a social picture story. Use digital photos, images from the web, or other sources to show and tell exactly what your child will do. Include all the steps, not forgetting that he must knock at the door, say "Trick or Treat!" and "Thank You!"” We talked about social stories in a previous column. Use them in this situation to help prevent a situation that we had a couple years ago. Konner would walk to the door and knock, but wouldn’t say trick or treat very well. When the people would open the door he would walk right in. This was ok because we knew the people we went to, but could have been a bad situation.  

6.      “Read the social story together, not once but as often as possible. From time to time, toss in a clinker: ask - "what if no one is home?" Help her understand that it's ok to skip a house, to take a piece of candy from a basket (if that's ok with you), and so forth.” We had a situation where we went to a man’s house, the light was on, he was even outside, but they didn’t have any candy. Konner was a little upset, but we kept him pretty calm. However, this could have been disastrous.

7.      “Practice, practice, practice! Put on the costume many times before the Big Night, and work out any kinks. Role play the entire treat or treat scenario as often as you can.” This goes back to several of the previous tips, but practice can help you avoid home invasion and costume meltdowns.

8.      “Act out a number of scenarios so your child has a small repertoire of possible responses. For example, what should she say when someone says "You look beautiful (or scary or creepy)!" What if you don't like the treat that's offered? What if you meet kids you know?” Children on the spectrum tend to be blunt about things. If they don’t like it they don’t like it, and they will let you know.

9.      “Scope out the neighborhood ahead of time. Do you see any decorations that might upset your child? Flashing lights that might trigger sensory reactions? If so, consider skipping that house (or visiting ahead of time) to avoid melt-downs.” We tend to start early on our rounds so that we have very little time in the dark for this reason and safety.

10.  “Consider recruiting peer support. If your child with autism has no siblings (or his siblings have other plans), consider recruiting another typical peer to go house-to-house with you. Explain to that child and his parents that he will be helping your child to understand Halloween a little better. You may be surprised at how helpful another child can be!” We used to have an older cousin that would go around with Konner and that seemed to help.

11.  “On the big night, remember to be flexible. If your well-prepared child suddenly rebels against his costume, consider letting him go in just a silly hat. Remember that Halloween is for fun - and it really doesn't matter what he wears or how many homes he visits.” See tip # 2.

12.  “Take pictures. Get excited. Have fun! Even if you're only going to one house, make it an event. When you're done, put together a memory book that can help you prepare for next year.” They are only young once. It’s great to show them how fun things can be. Just remember that it’s not fun if you force them to be uncomfortable or have a meltdown. That will only cause a bad memory.

These tips were found on, ( and there are many more out there. I hope they help make it a spooktacular holiday for your family.

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