Autism and Halloween: 5 Tips for Parents

Autism and Halloween: 5 Tips for Parents

Tips to make the Halloween festivities fun and safe for kids with autism.

By Judy Koutsky

Halloween is fast approaching and this holiday brings about a lot of excitement for many kids. But for some children on the autism spectrum, Halloween can be a day that provokes anxiety and brings about some challenges. We asked Michael Cameron, PhD, chief clinical officer at Pacific Child & Family Associates, for some tips about making this holiday safe and fun for kids on the spectrum.

1. The costume. It’s important for both parents and the child to agree on the costume. Parents should keep in mind their child’s sensory challenges or allergies, like with latex materials or makeup, says Cameron. If your child has a lot of sensory issues, a costume that is made out of scratchy materials or has distracting elements -- like lights or beeping -- may not be the best fit. It’s also important that Halloween is not the first time your child is wearing the costume for an extended amount of time. Have him wear it a few hours a day at home, starting a week or so before Halloween. That way he’ll get used to it and you can also modify anything that is creating challenges (like tags or a mask).

2. The dark, crowded neighborhood. Large crowds walking around the neighborhood at night dressed up in various scary costumes can cause any child to be unnerved, and for a child on the spectrum, this can be even more disturbing. “To help familiarize your child with this new situation, a week before Halloween, have your child practice walking through the neighborhood with you and a flashlight,” notes Cameron. Take a similar path that you’ll take on Halloween night so he becomes familiar with it.

3. The candy. It’s important to set expectations in advance when discussing the candy and what your kids are allowed to eat. For some kids with allergies or sugar sensitivities, it’s a good idea for parents to have backup treats they know their kids can have. The kids can still go trick-or-treating, but once back home, they can swap out the candy they can’t eat for a gluten-free or other variety. If you’re looking to limit sugar, Cameron suggests that “parents set a timer which allows their child to have a piece of candy every 30 minutes or so. Once the timer goes off, the child knows that it is time for a ‘gobbling goblin’ break.” During this break, you can read books about Halloween or draw pictures.

More from P&G everyday: 5 Ways to Support a Mom With a Child on the Autism Spectrum

4. The Halloween night etiquette. Walking up to a unknown house, ringing the doorbell, saying “trick-or-treat,” then only selecting one piece of candy, then walking to another house and repeating the whole process -- there are a number of social rules or steps to follow on Halloween. The way to make these tasks become familiar and acceptable is to practice them. For kids with autism, it’s not a bad idea to line up a few friends or neighbors a day or two before Halloween and have your child go through the sequence of events.


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5. The end result. With so many new sights, sounds, and textures, make sure to check in with your child to make sure he’s OK. He may have a hard time communicating how he’s feeling. Remember, if he’s uncomfortable or feeling overwhelmed, it’s fine to make Halloween night short and sweet; you can always do something fun back at home. The purpose of the night is to have fun -- and being flexible and lowering expectations can often help make that a reality for all kids, not just those on the spectrum.

What are some tips you have when it comes to the holidays and kids with special needs?

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of, AOL Parent and Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

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Why I Dress Up for Halloween With My Kids

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