If you ask my older son, Halloween is all about the candy! We often used to host Halloween gatherings with our neighbors and family before we moved and we would do a lot of my childhood traditions when I was growing up on Halloween night. Cameron and his friends would hit the houses and they knew who had the full size candy bars and the moment of anticipation when they could come home and sort through all their candies and in some cases do some trading with his friends.
It’s different with Cody. Its not about the candy or at least not yet. Leading up to this holiday several autism families prepare up to a few months before this one night a year celebration. You see some children with autism, do not like costumes due to sensory issues and may have to ease into them over a period of time. Some may not like the candy and need to be taught what to say during the “exchange” when they go door to door. Some may be nonverbal and use laminated cards to let the people at the homes know they do not speak. Some may be spooked by the loud sounds of scary noise makers or the sudden movements of people trying to scare others. Some may not like all the flashing lights when approaching strange unfamiliar front doors. Some may develop anxiety when approaching other people or being in the crowd of others. Some may have poor motor skills and have a tough time grabbing a piece of candy from a neighbor’s basket or dropping it when its handed to them.
We explore and try new things all the time with Cody. I was most certain that he would be too scared of equine lessons at New Hope Equine Assisted Therapy, because of the environment, the size of the horse and the feel of the horses hair and look at him now! You never know unless you try.
Most of everything we do, we have to teach him from what may come natural to others. A Mom was just sharing a video with me on Saturday of her son in ABA therapy last week practicing what to say and how you hold your bag out when you go door to door for trick or treating. I can promise you she did not need to teach this to her older son nor did I teach Cameron. This is an act that can be shown one time and any neurotypical children will run with the concept especially when candy is involved!!
We purchased Cody’s costume 3 weeks ago and have been slowly having him wear it around the house. We made laminated cards that read, Trick or Treat! Having autism can sometimes make it difficult to speak. Please accept this as a thank you for the yummy treat!” We will choose homes that do not have too much of a sensory overload. And lastly, we will watch him body language closely to ensure we don’t see any triggers that may cause him to much anxiety and have a meltdown.
Several parents with children with autism may choose to just stay home Halloween night because of the lack of acceptance and awareness out there and it may just be easier. It’s a lot of work to explore different activities with your kiddos and as a parent it can be very exhausting.
Fall Festivals and Trunk or Treat Events at local churches are another great place to explore. We took Cody to his first Fall Festival this year. Everything we did had to be taught. The ring toss at first was stressful for him. By the second round you literally could not get the rings back from him because he was having so much fun! The cake walk was another great one to watch. Brad watched from a far and he knew that there would be no way Cody would walk in a circle and stop on a square when the music stopped. But guess what? He did! It’s a pattern and he loves patterns! He learned to slow down when someone was in front of him because no way would he share a square with someone nor go in front of them. It was very interesting to watch him. When they finally did draw his number and he won, he we was not quite sure why we were celebrating but he loved the circular pattern.
Halloween or the Fall season is not just about the candy. There are several opportunities to explore and as parents with a child with autism do not load you plate too full. Chose a few events and prepare and make those successful ones. If you try to do too many not only will you be exhausted your child will not be able to enjoy especially if you did not prepare.
I read this today, “With Halloween tonight, please keep in mind, a lot of little people may be visiting your home, be kind and accepting.”