Halloween is a fun holiday and an enjoyable experience for many. Kids get to dress up as their favorite character, stay up late, and go out trick-or-treating for candy with friends. However, for children on the Autism Spectrum, this experience can be stressful. Some kids struggle to communicate or practice the necessary safety precautions independently. Others may have a difficult time tolerating the crowds or loud noises. As ABA therapists or parents how can we improve the experience for someone who struggles with Halloween? Well, there are a variety of ways depending on the individual. In this article, the AccuPoint Team explores different options to make Halloween enjoyable for all.
(Stay tuned until the end. We built some great tools for our favorite people: ABA therapists, parents, caregivers, and clients! We have a few downloadable resources: a trick-or-treating skill list, an ABA parent’s guide to Halloween, cards for neighbors on Halloween, and a sample email for practices to share with families.)
What Halloween Skills Can I Work on With My Client?
Halloween—or any new situation—is an opportunity to work on skills if you’re in the ABA field. As a therapist or caregiver, there are a few questions you can ask to get started as you evaluate how this spooky holiday can be prepared for.
Is your client able to independently trick-or-treat with age-appropriate adult supervision? Would they be able to cross the street safely and participate without maladaptive behaviors? We have created a list of skills you can work on with your client that can generalize to improve their trick-or-treating experience. (You can download your copy here. The download is a fillable PDF that can be used on a computer or printed out and used).
We explore safety skills (crossing the street, staying with a group or caregiver, etc.), personal information (responding to name questions appropriately, providing contact information, etc.), and other skill categories.
What Halloween Skills Can Parents Practice With Their Children?
Parents will find that practicing different aspects of Halloween with their children ahead of time will make the holiday easier to navigate. This could mean practicing putting on a costume, or all the steps of trick-or-treating. After all, practicing can be beneficial when acquiring a new skill.
Our team has outlined some of the key steps of trick-or-treating for parents to practice (and track!) with their child/children. (We also have a downloadable parents guide to share.) Keep in mind parents may need to modify steps where appropriate and the practice may require some imagination and creativity. For instance, parents might practice by utilizing different doors to rooms in their house and have a family member behind the door to answer it and give out candy. Consider reserving the child’s preferred candy or treat for when they perform really well or show dramatic improvement in performance.
Also, parents should reinforce the child with praise when they perform each step correctly and provide prompts when needed. Examples of prompting might include verbal reminders or hand over hand prompting.
Other Ways to Practice Halloween Skills
Many churches, schools and communities might hold a trunk-or-treat event before Halloween. This is a perfect opportunity for parents, caregivers, or therapists to practice trick-or-treating skills in a smaller environment. What are some additional advantages of trunk-or-treat? Typically your child will not need to walk as far because the cars are parked close together and the risk of getting lost or hit by oncoming traffic dramatically decreases.
Some common questions we hear from ABA parents and how our team answers them:
What if my child won’t wear a costume?
Children don’t have to wear a costume to enjoy the holiday. Kids have the right to experience Halloween (or any holiday) in a way that is comfortable for them. Some options? Parents and caregivers can try having children wear a Halloween-themed shirt or just the clothes they typically wear. There is no one specific way to celebrate Halloween. If trick or treating or a Halloween-themed gathering would be enjoyable they can wear whatever clothing makes them most comfortable.
What if my child can’t say “trick-or-treat”?
That’s not a problem, as long as your child can safely trick-or-treat you can choose from multiple alternatives of saying “trick-or-treat”. (We’ve included some cards you can print out and hand to neighbors during the trick-or-treating process if that would be helpful.)
What if my child engages in hand flapping, echolalia, or spinning?
As long as it doesn’t impact safety it is okay; inclusion is so important and you don’t want to miss out. As we said above, there is no one perfect way to celebrate Halloween. If your family’s Halloween includes flapping or spinning then that’s the perfect way for you to celebrate. If you do have concerns about how others may perceive your child’s behavior, you might want to rehearse what you plan to say if someone asks questions. (Again, we have a set of downloadable cards you can hand to neighbors when trick-or-treating to make this easier.)
Do I want to disclose my child’s diagnosis?
That’s entirely up to parents. There are different methods for sharing an ASD diagnosis:
- Blue Halloween Bucket
Disclosing a child’s diagnosis is a very personal decision. Your family may choose to be very open and let the whole neighborhood know verbally. You might hand out cards about your child before or while they are trick-or-treating (see attached cards for your convenience!). Or you might choose a discreet method to share a diagnosis such as a blue Halloween bucket.
Halloween can be a stressful experience for some, but we hope with our tools you are able to make the most of it and have an enjoyable time. To download the tools referenced in this article please click here. We hope you have a Happy Halloween!
Download our ABA Halloween Resource Kit. It includes:
- Trick-or-Treat Skill Tracking Sheet
- ABA Parent Halloween Guide with Checklist
- Cards for Neighbors
- Sample Halloween Best Practices Email for ABA Practices to Send to Families