Fall is officially here. THe trees have all started changing colors and pumpkins decorate the neighborhoods. Halloween will soon be here. For many children, this is an exciting time of year. They get to dress up in fun costumes, get free candy, and all sorts of fun activities. But for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Halloween may not be fun at all. So, why is Halloween hard for children with autism?
My children love the concept of Halloween. Little man love pumpkins, spiders, ghosts, and all things that go bump in the night! My youngest daughter is so creative, so she always comes up with cutest outfits. That being said, the actually activity of going Trick-or-Treating is a whole different ball game! We all go out together, but by the half way through (if we’re that lucky), I come back home with our two autistic children while my husband finishes trick or treating with the older two.
There are many reasons that Autism and Halloween don’t always mix. Here are a few of the main reasons that makes Halloween hard for children with autism.
Why is Halloween hard for children with Autism?
Bright Lights and Loud Noises:
A huge part of halloween is decorations. Many homes are decorated with flashing, multi-colored, or even black lights. Many children with autism, as well other disorders like Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), have sensitivities to lights. So imagine going out in the dark just to have extreme difference in lights all around you. For some it is just a discomfort, for others it is down right painful.
Noises are a huge factor for us! Though the silly sounds of Halloween might make many kids giggle, for children with autism it can give quiet the opposite affect. Often times, there will be loud noises that are unpredictable and be overwhelming. Since each family decorates their homes differently, there is really no way to predict or avoid these situations that could upset them.
A tradition of Halloween is to say “trick or treat” to each house. That is all well and good, but not all children are verbal. Being nonverbal is associated often with autism, but occurs with other diagnosis as well. Even for those who are verbal around friends and family, may be non verbal in social situations. This can make it quite uncomfortable when strangers are constantly trying to get you to say “trick or treat.”
Along with not always being able to say “trick or treat,” the social interactions of Halloween can be extremely overwhelming. Think about it this way. We teach our children “stranger danger” from an early age. For children with autism, this is a huge rule that is taught over and over to keep them safe. But on Halloween night, we tell them it is okay to go up to strangers, talk to them, and even take candy from them.
For children who strive off of rules and routines, this simply does not make any sense! Because it is something they are taught not to do, it can be overwhelming and down right scary.
Change in Routine
Not only do the rules of Halloween cause confusion, Halloween happens at a time when children are normally getting ready for bed. For children with autism, they work best with very rigid routines (including ones they have created themselves). Instead of going to bed like they are supposed to, they are now being taken out during night time and walking a ton! This can be extremely overwhelming, and very for us, very easily turns into a meltdown.
Autism and Halloween do not mix well for many reasons, but costumes are not one that many think of. Everyone is different, as with those who have an autism diagnosis. My daughter absolutely loves to dress up. My son on the other hand, cannot even handle putting on an apron to paint.
Costumes are often made from scratchy material. Dressing an autistic child in the first place can be difficult. Add in extra tags, layers, textures, and you have a chance for a complete sensory overload! We avoid any masks, and most of the time use items from his own closet to make it easier for him. That also causes an issue because people might not always get what he is.
Our daughter loves dressing up, but she normally picks some animal to be. She absolutely does not want anything scary. The part that makes costumes the hardest for her is other people. She cannot handle going to places that have people in costumes as it scares her and just doesn’t make sense to her. Then, you go out trick or treating and everyone is dressed up (many of which are scary costumes). This scares her horribly, but she wants the candy and experience. The stress and anxiety of that conflict make Halloween hard for her.
Believe it or not, not everyone likes to be frightened! Even my neurotypical teenager is absolutely terrified by chainsaws and clowns (10x more of clowns with chainsaws,lol). Though many people try to make things kid friendly, one of the joys of Halloween for many is to be down right scary. Combine all the other factors mentions, and it can just be to overwhelming for them.
Autism and Halloween: What can I do to make it easier?
When it comes to your child, you have to figure out what works best. There are a few things you can do to prepare them or help with others understanding like:
Using Social Stories
Social stories are a great way to prepare children for what to expect. Sometimes, anxiety can arise from just not understanding how things are going to happen. You can download stories for free online, go to the library, or buy a fun little book that they can refer to each year. Little man loves Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick or Treating. It is an adorable board book about how egg doesn’t want to go trick or treating because he is afraid. It’s a fun way to talk to little ones about Halloween.
Use handouts or a designed bag
Another way to help with children who are nonverbal or cannot handle talking to strangers is by helping educate. One way is by using a bag that says Non-Verbal Trick or Treater- Please be Patient or even one that says This is my costume.
Another way is to use a printable for those who seem to not get why your child won’t speak to them. There is not enough time to educate every person you meet, but a nice little printable may be a huge help. It may also help other children by making people think a little differently about pushing kids to say trick or treat. Feel free to use the printable below, or use it to design your own!
Click here to download your Free Trick or Treat Cards
Alicia Trautwein is an autism parenting coach living in Missouri. She is the creator behind The Mom Kind, a website dedicated to parenting neurodiverse families. She is one of the head creators behind the #WeLoeveMoms campaign and is also featured in the “Amazing Moms” coffee table book by Hogan Hilling & Dr. Elise Ho. She shares her expertise along with her experience in parenting children, both with and without autism.