Now, I know this comes a bit late for some families with autistic children, but here it comes anyway. It’s an open secret that Halloween is tricky for many people on the spectrum. However, I have come to love Halloween just as much as any other holiday. I am autistic, so I’m going to pass on some tips that have helped my particular hue of the spectrum.
- Let the autistic person choose the costume – early on. The anticipation and buildup were key in my case, and coming up with costume ideas that were either accepted or substituted for better ones was key to my preparation. I had, and still have, a vivid, active imagination, and could come up with a bevy of ideas. From an angel, to a medieval peasant (substituted for flapper later on), to a witch, I always had chosen my costume early on.
- Don’t even mess with a mask. Growing up in the 1980s, the only masks available were those terrible plastic ones that left a line around the face because they were so small, and the breathing holes were barely there. “Was that even legal?” I thought half the time. So I never wore a mask. And the question of makeup? Well, that is an individual thing. Your kid knows if they can handle makeup. Let them help you with that answer. But, I digress. The point is, just don’t even mess with the mask.
- Keep it Simple, Silly. One year, all I needed was a black sweater dress, tights and a witch’s hat. That was the costume. That was a modern (1980s) witch. Maybe the costume is a simple pun. One time, a sibling went dressed in black, with various (small!) pieces of clothing pinned to them. What were they? Static Cling. The point of this? Don’t stress too much. You’ll stress out your kid by accident!
- Early celebration helps me. Nowadays, Halloween is stretched out to begin on midnight, September 30. Helping to plan the entire month actually helps autistic kids. If you won’t listen to us autistic people, listen to the parents who give dry runs for trick-or-treating.
- Make sure the costume fits the rules of the party. Many times, I would go to a “Harvest Festival” or “Fun Zone” at the church I was attending at the time. I would have to go as something non-scary, which was no problem to me, because I could be a huge number of things. What a tragedy it would be for your autistic kid to be turned away from an event because their costume did not follow the pre-set rules! Honestly, who would want to relive that every Halloween?
- Do not restrict movement! This was discussed a little bit in Tip 2, but restricting movement is horrifying to an autistic child, especially one that has suffered the abuse of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). If the movement is restricted, the child will be uncomfortable, and therefore will not want to participate. So, ask yourself a few questions with the costume you might be forcing on your child:
-Can you sit in the costume?
-Can you go to the bathroom in the costume?
-Can you run from a creepy sex predator in the costume?
- Do not force a child to do something they do not want to do. This is the most important rule, and the one which will give the child the most pleasant experience they can have. If the child does not want to wear the mask, do not force the mask on them. If the house is too scary with the decorations (or the barking dog), don’t force them to go up to it. If they do not want to go in the scary maze, do not go! Would you force your neurotypical child like this?
I hope these tips can be helpful, even if they are delivered a little late.