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Halloween, like any major event that poses difficulties for your child, can become more manageable and, even enjoyable, with preparation. Halloween can be confusing for your child. We go to great lengths to prepare children to respond to the behaviors of others’ and to everyday life. On Halloween, for one day of the year, it is completely acceptable for people to behave in different ways, like wearing costumes, knocking on neighbors’ doors, and saying ‘trick or treat’.
A proactive approach goes a long way to teach your child skills and to avoid any problematic behaviors. Following the 11 steps can make it a great day for you, your child, and your other children.
1. Read social stories – stories help children on the autism spectrum prepare for an event or learn a skill. Through the use of pictures and a story format, children on the autism spectrum can learn from hearing about other children on Halloween. You can use a fictitious character, a familiar child, or your child as the main character in the story. You can make up your own story with your own pictures of your child, take out a book from the library that includes trick or treating, or find a social story online. There are a ton of social stories online that are ready to use.
2. Make trips to the local Halloween store – your child will see many costumes and hear many sounds on Halloween that are foreign and scary. Exposing your child to as many costumes, objects, and sounds as possible will prepare your child for the unexpected in your neighborhood. These items are often on display at your local Halloween store. Take a trip to the store and tour it. It might even be fun for your child.
3. Practice dressing up in a costume in your house – you can practice dressing up in a costume and wearing it in the house. To normalize the costume, allow your child to wear it when he watches television or plays a game. Try to select a costume that is not overstimulating (e.g., overly colorful, intrusive with a lot of material, scary, etc.) and is consistent with your child’s interests.
4. Practice trick or treating at your own home – There is no better way to prepare your child than to actually practice what children do on Halloween. Go ahead and practice having your child knock on your front door, say “Trick or treat”, get candy, and walk away. Have your other child model and demonstrate how this should look and sound. You could also substitute preferred snacks for candy that might be typically given out in your neighborhood. Also, role-play specific situations (Someone answers a door and says, “Who are you dressed up as?” or “I love your constume”).
5. Find good company – it is important to recruit peer or siblings who could go trick or treating with (you and) your child. Even if it is for a short time, your child will benefit from watching other children trick or treat, how they do it, and how they react to their environment.
6. Start small – don’t go into Halloween with high expectations. Even with all the preparation, your child might have difficulty. Remember, Halloween contradicts many of the rules we teach children on the autism spectrums, such as ‘Do not go to strangers’ homes’, ‘Do not talk to strangers’, and “To use functional speech’. As a result, Halloween can be confusing for your child. You could even start by having your child answer your door with you and give out candy to children who come to your front door. Once your child begins to trick or treat, start with 2-3 homes and see how it goes. Also, start with neighbors who are tolerant and welcoming.
7. Take breaks – You should always gauge your child. Have planned breaks…don’t wait too long. Take a break and go home on a good note. You could always continue trick or treating later. Remember, if is always better to be proactive and make it a positive experience, rather than reacting to your child’s difficulties. If possible, you could also prompt your child to ask for breaks.
8. Make sure to bring snacks that your child can have/likes – some children do not like candy and chocolate. Be sure to bring snacks (or foods) he likes. Drop some of these snacks in his Halloween bag. On occasion, show him what is in the bag so that he is excited to get snacks and foods he really likes. You should even stop frequently to have a favorite snack. After all, all kids eat some of the snacks before they get home for the day.
9. Make it fun – Above all, Halloween should be fun. Again, read your child. If your child is having fun, extend the day, but be careful not to push the envelope. Shorten the day, end on a positive note, and build on it next year.
10. Keep a note – At the end of the day, jot down what worked and what did not work. Store the note in a Halloween folder on your computer or in a file cabinet. Take out the note in the beginning of October next year and adjust your plan accordingly for 2012.
11. Take a deep breathe – Halloween can be a stressful day for any parent, but it is especially stressful for parents of children with autism. Take a deep breathe. Your child might hit a bump in the road, but Halloween, like any day, is a learning experience. You are your child’s most important models. Stay as calm as possible. Your child might actually exceed your expectations.
Have a Happy Halloween!
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