Ah…Halloween. You might be surprised to learn that I wholeheartedly support my kids going trick or treating. As you can imagine, I am not particularly thrilled about the copious amount of sugar that they bring into the house and I don’t much care for the scary and dark parts of the day. I like to focus on how Halloween brings together communities. Elderly neighbours who may not get out much, have the chance to say hello to little bunnies, robots and dragons. Children walk or rather, run in wonder as they take in all the excitement. Pillow cases are re-purposed as loot bags and parents pull wagons. Televisions are turned off and families are outside walking, laughing and connecting with one another.
As much fun as Halloween can be, the reality is that it can all be a little overwhelming. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Jackie from Thrive with Autism. I appreciated her passion for helping people with autism embrace their gifts and the support she offers for families, friends and schools. Recently, I received a great email from Jackie. I contacted her and asked if I could share it with you and she graciously agreed. Please visit her website at thrivewithautism.ca and take a peek at what she offers. Next time on the blog, I will share some of my own tips and tricks for managing the candy and fun alternatives to sugary treats.
If your child is up for the whole costume and trick-or-treat thing, here are a few suggestions to keep things manageable:
- To minimize meltdowns, decide ahead of time how long you’ll be going out for, and give your autistic child reminders of when the end time is approaching! If siblings want to go out for longer, arrange for them to go with friends.
- If your child is on a special diet(yes, special diets not only help by taking down brain and other inflammation, they can be the biggest factor after love to turn autism challenges around), make a “tooth fairy” style agreement for substituting coins or safe treats (like toys, a museum trip, or time with the neighbour’s puppy) for the cognitively, emotionally, and physically harmful candy that’s gathered. Alternately, take some toys over to neighbours places ahead of time, and ask them to give your child the toys instead of candy.
- Consider a comfortable costumethat includes dark glasses (and can accommodate ear protectors or earplugs), so that if sensory overstimulation starts to up your child’s stress level, you can back it down quickly
- Prior to Hallowe’en, allow your child to become used to wearing the costume by practicing at home, and role-play trick-or-treating with family, friends, and neighbours — even if your child isn’t going to go out on Hallowe’en night, having a common experience with peers can be really important
- Ahead of time, read stories about Hallowe’en, tell stories about what the event looked like when you were a kid, and discuss different options for celebrating Hallowe’en(street gathering, church gathering, school gathering, spooky event, farm event…), if possible allowing your autistic child to help choose which one to try. You can also try to negotiate for community events to be more sensory-friendly, or create your own sensory-friendly event. Arrange for quiet retreat places and regular “do you want to leave now” check-ins. NB: Malls are not sensory-friendly!
- If you plan to give treats away from your own home, consider asking your autistic child to do the job of putting candy into visitors’ bags, maintaining a safe and familiar environmenteven while lots of strange and unusual things are happening
- When those inevitable strange and unusual things do happen, if your autistic child finds them disturbing or upsetting, set aside some quiet time to talk about whatever happened, right then and there. This can prevent a lot of misunderstanding and future stress!