Let’s face it: the holiday season is full of contradictions. It brings out both the best and the worst in people. It’s a time for creating childhood magic and enjoying carefree fun … and it’s a time when parental pressure ratchets way up.
It seems like everyone has an opinion about how you ought to celebrate. And all too often, their ideas of the ‘perfect’ holiday don’t take into account the reality of life with autism and sensory processing disorder.
If that’s been your experience, we understand. (In fact, we recently published a post entitled, The worst autism advice for parents we’ve ever heard!)
As a parent, it’s your role to sort through the suggestions, keeping the best and letting go of the worst. Here are a few FirstPath Autism tips to help you facilitate a happy Halloween for your child with autism (take what helps, and leave the rest).
1. Prepare for changes in home and school routines.
The holidays mean that your family’s usual routine shifts, and that causes disruption for everyone, including your child. Much as children may look forward to the celebration, they may not understand that it involves trade-offs too.
For example, having a Halloween parade at school may mean that their favorite art class is canceled for the day. Be sure to discuss these changes with your child ahead of time. They may not infer that the parade means that art class won’t happen as usual.
So don’t let the schedule shifts take you and your child by surprise. Instead, use calendars, social stories, or visual scheduling tools to help your child prepare for the day.
Your child’s school may send home a synopsis of holiday events, but if they don’t, call and clarify the schedule for the day so that you can prepare.
2. Assess sugar impact and decide what’s reasonable.
You know your child’s sensitivity to sugar, so ask yourself: how well does he or she handle it? What are they really like after two cookies? Find a balance between prudence and fun.
Unless food allergies or confirmed intolerances are involved, consider allowing your child space to eat some special-occasion treats. And if food allergies and sensitivities are an issue, be sure to make or buy one of your child’s favorite snack foods to add to the festivities.
Spiced pumpkin seeds, popcorn, cinnamon-baked apples, and trail mix are perennial fall favorites for kids who need to avoid processed sugar.
3. Be mindful of sensory issues.
Halloween means plenty of flashing lights, brightly-colored costumes, and loud cries of, “Trick or treat!” This festive celebration is challenging for individuals with autism and sensory processing disorder.
If your child wants to wear a costume, be sure to have them try it on in advance and check for potential skin irritants. If you’re going to be outdoors, review the weather forecast a few days in advance. Prep your child for the possibility that they may need to wear a coat with their superhero costume.
On Halloween, houses are filled with the sounds of children exclaiming, “But Superman doesn’t wear a coat!” “But the Little Mermaid didn’t havesleeves!” It’s a fight waiting to happen.
You’re trying to make sure that your children don’t freeze on a chilly night, and they’re trying to make sure that they look like an authentic Disney character. So stop the disagreement before it starts.
If your area gets cold on Halloween, see if you can work warmth into the costume in advance; it’s much easier than trying to get your kids to layer up at the last minute.
Find a warm cape for Superman’s back or a pretty, flowing drape for the Little Mermaid’s shoulders. If the layer is a part of the costume from the get-go, your child may be less likely to resist it.
4. If the traditions don’t fit, make your own!
Most of us start thinking in terms of tradition when the holidays approach. Given this, it’s easy to get caught up in how things are ‘supposed to’ be. Halloween means carving pumpkins, dressing up, and going trick or treating, right?
But what if your child refuses to wear a costume, is terrified of jack-o’-lanterns, and wants to go to bed early? What if sensory processing disorder deters you from participating in typical Halloween festivities?
Then you get to choose whether to force a certain version of so-called normalcy, or make some new traditions of your own.
Remember that, as a parent, you get to do what works for you and your family. So do that, and let the rest go. Let go of comparison and ‘shoulds’ and ‘What will the extended family think?’ and just embrace the reality of your own household.
If your child is an early riser, perhaps you can start a Halloween breakfast tradition, making pumpkin pancakes and running around wearing bedsheets and pretending to be ghosts.
If your child doesn’t want to go trick or treating, maybe you can go on a hayride or take in a sensory-friendly movie together instead. Let your imagination run wild. And most of all, have fun!