With two significant events within a week of each other, Halloween and Bonfire Night, Priory Education and Children’s Services has put together a two-part autism guide to help parents prepare their children for it and make the period an enjoyable one for all the family. Children with autism may present challenging behaviours when situations or actions they have difficulty understanding arise, but there are ways to prepare them for predetermined events and reduce the chances of this happening.
Halloween can present several challenges to a child with autism. For those with communication and social difficulties, trick-or-treating presents a challenge in the various interactions with relative strangers. If your child has been invited to a Halloween party then sensory issues may also come to the fore. However, there are ways to prepare.
It’s all in the planning
To start with, create a countdown for your child, or a visual agenda using pictures and/or videos. Incorporate within this what will happen and when, and go through the itinerary regularly. For trick-or-treating this itinerary can encompass the time you leave the house, the route you’ll take, the houses you will visit and so on.
Using social stories can also help to prepare your child for interactions and give them a good grounding in how to respond in certain situations. For example, it may be that no one answers the door when your child knocks at some houses, so prepare them for this and reduce the likelihood of it making them anxious. You can also role play the situation of trick-or-treating and use some of the phrases your child may hear such as; “don’t you look scary?” It may also help to speak to some of your neighbours beforehand and inform them you’ll be visiting. This will not only help for later on, but is useful in spreading a little knowledge about autism.
Your child may have particular preferences when it comes to sweets, so try to pre-warn about this, or make it clear to your child that they will receive a range of different treats. It may also prove useful to print out a small note to attach to your child’s treat bucket/bag with a short message explaining why they may not be able to respond to questions.
And, if possible, go trick-or-treating with a friend or sibling as this may further help your child to feel more at ease and enhance their enjoyment. There are likely to be other children out trick-or-treating too so it may help to have additional peer support, although be wary this could equate to even more noise.
You as the parent will know your child best and know what agitates them most and how best to cope. If they have something in particular that helps them stay calm, such as a toy or favourite music, have these ready just in case your child begins to feel upset.
It is important to ensure your child feels comfortable and at ease, and this may not be the case with a lot of costumes. As many parents of children with autism will know, there are many features such as tags or certain materials and colours that can be very upsetting. This may be a time to use a few DIY skills and make a costume incorporating clothes they are comfortable and relaxed in. You can also dress your child in a t-shirt or jumper with something Halloween-appropriate emblazoned upon it, so they still feel comfortable but also in the spirit of things.
The party atmosphere can present many difficulties for a young person with autism. There may be games, bright lights, loud music and various social interactions they are unused to. Utilise the countdown idea and social stories again to prepare them for what is likely to happen. However, it is possible for autism and social events to mix provided the planning is in place.
If your child simply isn’t into the festivities then remember that this is also okay, not every child likes Halloween and they aren’t obliged to participate. They may prefer to participate in other ways, such as handing out sweets at the door to other trick-or-treaters. This, again, has the element of being unpredictable, which means the planning process and lead-up to the day are extremely important. Hopefully, by being as prepared as possible, your child will be able to relax and enjoy the festivities.
For more details on Priory Education and Children's Services, please call 0118 970 8068 or click here to make an enquiry.