Halloween can be a fun and exciting time of the year for many children. It can be a time of parties and candy. However, transitions between various activities and sudden changes in daily routines can be particularly upsetting for some children with autism. Parents, however, can help to alleviate some of these stresses by utilizing Halloween as a “teaching tool” for their children with autism.
1. Trick or Treating and Other Activities
“Trick or treat?” is a common phrase children repeat when they knock on a person’s door on the night of Halloween. A parent can practice this skill with his/her child at home so he/she is aware of this “traditional greeting” when knocking on someone’s door. Some children with autism take certain phrases as either “black or white.” They may question you as to why they need to perform a “trick” on someone they don’t know. They may want to know what “tricks” are acceptable or even engage in a social behavior they feel is acceptable as a “trick” when it may be viewed by others as “unacceptable.”
Click here to find out more
Explaining “tricks” aren’t necessary and discussing this with your child may save him/her and you some embarrassment in the neighborhood. Some children with autism may be totally uninterested in going Trick or Treating for the evening. They may enjoy staying at home and handing out candy instead. This is another excellent opportunity for them to practice their social skills with children at their front door as they interact with them.
Self-advocacy is an important life skill any individual can obtain. Children may be asked to select a piece of candy from a bowl at a neighbor’s house. A child with autism may look into the bowl and not see a candy he/she desires. He/She may not know how to respond. He/She may continue to be asked to select and not know how to respond and simply walk away. It may appear as a rude behavior to others. Children with autism may have to be taught how to say “No, thank you.”
Some children with autism may not want to select a piece of candy if they feel it has been touched by others within a bowl. Other neighbors may simply place candy in the child’s bag and again the child with autism may need to be taught how to say “Thank you.” Some children with autism may be confused as to why they are thanking someone for a piece of candy they don’t like. Practicing social skills situations with them may assist them with understanding they can give that piece of candy to a friend or trade it for a preferred piece of candy from a family member.
3. Problem Solving with Other Children
Some children with autism do not like crowds or having other children bump into them by making physical contact. As they go to enter a doorway on Halloween night, there may be several children that rush the door at the same time. Having the social skills in order to say such things as: “Excuse me,” or “It’s your turn, I can wait,” can make the evening much more enjoyable. Some children travel in groups on Halloween night. Some children move faster than
others. Having the social skills to ask others to “Slow down and wait,” can assist them with a more productive evening.
4. Social Stories
Social Stories are a great way to develop appropriate social skills for children with autism. It will allow parents and their children an opportunity to practice these skills daily during the month of October. Then later, the same social skills that have been taught and obtained can be generalized into upcoming holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah.
Preparing for Halloween Social Story
Halloween will soon be here! It happens on October 31st.
For Halloween, I will dress up in a costume that I pick.
If my costume makes me uncomfortable, I can wear my clothing over it.
Sometimes on Halloween, it may snow or rain. I may have to wear my jacket or bring an umbrella.
When I go trick or treating, I will carry a flashlight with me.
I may see scary things on Halloween night. I can always take a break if I am getting too scared.
If a house does not have their porch light on, I will NOT knock on their door. If the porch light is on, I will knock.
If I go to a house and a lot of other kids are there with me, I may have to wait in line.
When I get to the house, I will knock on the door or ring the doorbell once and then say “Trick-or-Treat!”
Some houses may have people that let me choose my own candy. If I don`t see anything I like, I can just say, “No, thank you.”
Some houses may have people that just put candy in my bag for me. If I get candy I don`t like, I can give it to my brother or sister or take it to school for a friend.
I never go into someone`s house to get my candy. I stay outside and wait.
When I get my candy, I cannot eat it until I get home. My parents will need to check my candy first to make sure it`s safe.
5. Carving a Pumpkin
Children enjoy carving pumpkins for Halloween. Such activities can be used to develop the social skills to ask for a marker, how to obtain assistance with cutting out the face, how to take turns appropriately, how to clean up their mess, etc. A task analysis can also be developed for a student to follow to attempt to independently complete a carved pumpkin activity and also know how to ask for assistance appropriately when needed.
Task Analysis for Carving Your Pumpkin
Step 1: Ask Mom and Dad if you can carve a pumpkin.
Step 2: Go to the store or pumpkin patch and bring a pumpkin home.
Step 3: Get some newspaper to spread under your pumpkin.
Step 4: Have Mom and Dad help you cut the top off the pumpkin.
Step 5: Scoop out all the pumpkin seeds and put them into a paper bag.
Step 6: Draw a face on the pumpkin.
Step 7: Have Mom and Dad help you carve a face on the pumpkin.
Step 8: Place a candle or flashlight inside the pumpkin. Have Mom and Dad light the candle if using one.
Step 9: Place the top back on your pumpkin.
Step 10: Throw away the newspapers and the paper bag.
6. Wearing a Costume to School and Other Activities
Wearing a costume for Halloween night or to the school Halloween party is an annual tradition. It will be important for children with autism to discuss, select, and receive their costume early. Some children with autism have specific sensory needs. They may not enjoy having a mask on their face or wearing make-up. If the school rule is they can’t wear the costume to school or they can’t have accessories such as wands, swords, or guns, this will all need to be explained.
It is also a great time to practice social skill language surrounding why the child selected this type of costume, if the character is a favorite of his/hers, etc. Activities such as bobbing for apples may appear unappealing as well. Children with autism may not like the idea of having their face wet or getting their costume messy.
7. Planning Early for Routine Changes
Transitions from activity to activity can often be difficult for children with autism. Planning ahead can assist with avoiding meltdowns over changes in activities. Weather may interrupt the evening and alternate plans may need to be made immediately. Some children with autism may select to stay home for the evening and pass out candy. The constant ringing of their doorbell for extended periods of time throughout the evening may also be bother some to them if they are noise sensitive.
8. Halloween Related Stories and Movies
Many children during the month of October love to read a good Halloween story or watch a Halloween related movie. Other children with autism may not like scary literature or movies. However, for those children with autism who do enjoy these activities, it can open up social opportunities for interactions with their peers. Having the opportunity to engage with peers about a newly released book or movie can allow them to practice their social skills and the language surrounding it.
9. Understanding the Importance of Checking Candy
Parents will need to explain to their children the reasons for not eating the candy given to them during the evening while Trick or Treating. Some children with autism may experience a meltdown when told they can’t eat their candy immediately after receiving it. If this skill is practiced beforehand, it can assist with these types of situations. Furthermore, children with autism will also need to know all can dy will have to be taken home and checked before any of it can be consumed.
10. Celebrating Social Skills
Many individuals focus on teaching children with autism appropriate social skills throughout the school year. Parents and professionals assist autistic students on focusing on facial expression and body language. Halloween
offers another opportunity to expand these social skills. Students with autism need to be able to read the social cues of a porch light being turned off on Halloween night. Students will need to be reminded this means the person is either not at home or does not participate in Halloween.
Parents may also need to further explain why some people do not celebrate Halloween or pass out candy. One of the biggest social skills for them to practice revolves around their own safety for the evening. They need to be reminded it is never appropriate to enter a person’s house to obtain candy. They need to have the safety risks explained to them. This may be an excellent reason for parents to attend Halloween-related activities with their autistic children in order to ensure everyone’s safety.
This article was featured in Issue 109 – Attaining Good Health.