Ask Alli: The Best Tips, Tricks and Treats for an Autism and Sensory-Friendly Halloween

Halloween is an exciting time for kids, and neurodiverse kids shouldn’t be left out of the fun because of frequent social interactions or uncomfortable costumes. As a mother to an adult son with autism, I’ve been through many Halloweens and hope my advice will set you up for a successful and spooktacular night!

Tips: Recognizing and knowing what a blue pumpkin means

Taking the time to explain your child has autism to every person, and every house you trick-or-treat at can be challenging and tiresome. Thankfully, people have been taking more steps to make Halloween more inclusive for everyone in recent years. For example, you may have noticed kids carrying blue pumpkin pails while trick-or-treating, and it’s not just because they look cute. A blue pumpkin is a relatively new idea that stemmed from social media where you give your child a blue pumpkin to hold their candy in, which signifies that they have autism or another sensory processing condition. The idea is that whoever answers the door will be more understanding overall and not make loud noises, try to scare the child or even wait for them to respond. Taking into consideration that a fair amount of children with autism are non-verbal and shouldn’t be expected to say “trick-or-treat” or “thank you,” sometimes you wishing them a happy Halloween or complimenting their costume can help make their night a great one.

While trick-or-treating, you may also notice that some families also put painted blue pumpkins outside. When a house has a blue pumpkin visible on a porch or in a window, it means the same thing as the candy pail, and it can show families your house will be more accommodating to people with autism and sensory issues. So go ahead and get out the paintbrush and have fun painting your pumpkins!

Tricks: Be as sensory-friendly as possible with costumes, decorations and interactions

Although it can be fun to embrace the Halloween spirit and scare people, families should understand that the loud noises, surprises and flashing lights associated with scary decorations or costumes can cause stress for those with sensory processing disorders. In addition, some of the trick-or-treaters who come to your door on Halloween can have issues with sudden changes like strobe lights or someone even shouting ‘Boo.’ That is why it is especially important to be considerate when putting up decorations and understand some of those decorations can be harmful to others.

Additionally, parents of neurodiverse children know how beneficial preparing your child for any activity can be beforehand. I recommend roleplaying anytime your child encounters a potentially overwhelming situation like trick-or-treating. This can look many different ways, but practicing beforehand at your own house or even a neighbor's house can help them understand how the interactions work and know what to expect on Halloween. Also, considering multiple dietary restrictions children with autism can face, I have found it can be beneficial to establish a candy plan. These plans can vary depending on the individual, but the most important thing is letting your child know they can exchange candies they cannot or will not eat with ones they like at the end of the night. So, the plan can be beneficial because it helps ensure your child is getting safe candy, and it can prevent problems arising if your child receives a candy they don’t like or can’t eat.

If preparing beforehand isn’t enough, consider also using various sensory supports. Here are some of the ones I have found most effective for Halloween and why.

  • Noise-canceling headphones: They don't have to be used exclusively for loud stores or noisy sporting events. Consider using them for Halloween, too. These headphones can help block out a lot of ambient noise and even loud, potentially scary, decorations.
  • Let them bring their security item or a fidget: Whatever shape, size, style or form their item or fidget might be, consider letting them bring it along. It can help reduce stress and anxiety and make your child feel more at ease.
  • Use a weighted vest: It gives a similar effect to a weighted blanket, and all a weighted vest does is make you feel like you’re getting a big hug and help certain kids tremendously. Bonus creativity points to you if you can find a way to incorporate the vest into a costume!

Interested in you, your child or someone you know receiving evidenced-based individualized therapy? Contact Alli Frazier’s company Frazier Behavioral Health, a behavioral health clinic that focuses on the person and helps children and adults with behavioral, social, communication and sensory issues at FrazierBH.com/Scene.

Can’t get enough of Ask Alli? Check out next month's article in the November 10 issue of the Cleveland Scene and the most recent Ask Alli TV segment on Facebook.com.

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