Halloween can be a scary time of year for all children! Joanna Gibbs, Director of SENsational Tutors Ltd. has asked some parents of children with autism, what they think about it. Some children clearly love it. Kellie, from West Yorkshire, said: “my 7 year old daughter loves it as long as it doesn’t get too dark… this year she’s going to be a unicorn.”
However some children with autism find the event challenging. As Jenna, another parent mentioned: “when my daughter was little the sight of a pumpkin was enough to terrify her”. Lucy from London, and a mum of a boy with autism said that her son: “actually likes the thought of Halloween but actually seeing displays is just too much.”
Although Halloween can be very challenging for children with autism, this does not mean that they shouldn’t be part of the fun. There are certain steps you can take to make Halloween more manageable for your little ones:
Overcome sensory issues – plan your costumes
Make sure to try on any costumes ahead of time! For children with sensory issues, certain textures and fabrics may be unpleasant. To reduce stress on the night, make sure they are fully comfortable before-hand, and make any adjustments needed. A great alternative if full costumes are a bit tricky is to add small accessories to their favourite outfit, such as a cape or a witches hat and a broom! This highly recommended book, written by a mum with two boys with sensory processing disorder, teaches you tried and tested strategies to support your child to overcome sensory issues.
Use photographs and videos
Many children with autism are visual processors. Showing them photographs of people in costumes is a good way to prepare them for the night and reduce the anxiety associated with the unknown! There are lots of fantastic videos available on Youtube that walk through trick or treating. The night itself won’t be as overwhelming if it’s not a complete surprise, and your child will be reassured if they know what to expect.
Use Social stories – explain what will happen on the night
Social stories are a great tool for this and help eliminate some uncertainty or fear. Jennifer from Taunton, whose son has autism, said that: “sometimes he will freak if he hears a dog bark or sees a dog. ” This website has some fantastic printable visual stories to help your child. To take this step further, it may also be a good idea to do a test run. Your child could try running through trick or treating at your own door, or walking through the neighbourhood with all the decorations up the night before.
Eliminate Surprises – scope out the shops
To ensure there are no nasty surprises, check out any areas you may visit with your child to ensure none of the decorations are too frightening for them. Shops especially can have frightening displays. As described by Lucy: “my son can’t go in any shop right now that has its Halloween displays at the entrance. He gets so bad and has a panic attack.”
Avoid Meltdowns – signpost your house
If your child is frightened or distressed by people in costumes, or if trick or treaters may be a little too much for them, put a sign on the door asking trick or treaters not to stop at this house. An optional step would be to also put a tub of sweets outside for trick or treaters to help themselves to. It may be beneficial to discuss this with neighbours beforehand as well. This will help reduce any avoidable meltdowns.
Notice Comfort levels – make the most of the night
It is important to be aware of your child’s comfort levels during the night and remain flexible. Jennifer again mentions that: “either way we take him out with the kids and let him do as much as he wants or as little if it’s getting a bit much for them”. Remember to head home for a little while to take a breather, then re-assess and decide whether you want to head back out. While you are out, make sure to explain what is happening as you walk around, and offer reassurances. Remember, Halloween is supposed to be a happy time!
Every autistic child is different, and for some trick or treating, dressing up and being scared is exciting! Here at SENsational Tutors Ltd, we advocate a flexible approach by offering tutoring and behavioural support to children and young adults aged 3-25.
Joanna Gibbs, (PGCE, QTS, B.A. (Hons), M.Ed.), is director of SENsational Tutors Ltd., a specialist autism and special needs tuition agency that matches qualified and highly-trained teachers/ professionals to your child in London. They specialise in providing tailor-made, play-based and fun 1:1 tuition, communication/behaviour packages in London.
Rates from £50+ per hour.
Their priority is to build confidence and to inspire a lifelong love of learning.
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