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Preparing for Halloween for Parents and Families

At a Glance

There’s a lot happening around Halloween season, let’s identify ways you can prepare yourself and the autistic person in your life for Halloween.

Everyone feels differently about Halloween festivities and related activities, you can pick and choose what applies to you.


We’ll connect you to some proactive strategies you can use all the way up to the day of Halloween.


Like many high activity holidays, Halloween can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Even people who don’t intend to do much to celebrate Halloween may find themselves at gatherings, making more transitions than usual, managing schedule changes, and navigating days that can differ widely from the norm. 


All this on top of possibly having to wear a costume, many of which are much more for show than comfort. It’s no wonder that many autistic people of all ages can find Halloween to be a challenging time!


Every individual is going to have a different relationship with Halloween and there is no “correct” way to celebrate it outside of what is comfortable and fun. 


There is also no one size fits all plan for navigating the challenges that can pop up during the Halloween season, only a series of ideas that you or the autistic person in your life may find helpful in practice. 


The tips in this post are all about preparing ahead of time, but you may find in your situation that only some are genuinely useful tools for navigating the season. 


The goal as always is to share useful tools that can help address existing problems rather than an entire framework to be imposed on an already stressful time.  


So let’s dive into some tools for navigating Halloween, starting with costumes!

🧙‍♀️ Choosing a Costume

Getting Started

A great place to get started when choosing a costume is to think about what activities you will want to do while wearing it, what you might need as part of your activities (e.g., bags for collecting candy, freedom of movement for playing games), and what kinds of boundaries you want to set around what you are willing to do to make a costume “work.” 


Setting some preconditions around what we know will not work can make it easier to parse the sometimes very wide array of possible choices. 


This is also a great time to talk about interests and related characters, as they may prove an excellent starting point for a final costume selection! Another great starting point is with our Choosing a Costume Social Story, which sets the tone for mutual decision making and self-advocacy.

Finding the Costume Together

Whenever possible or practical it is a great idea to include your child in the final process of picking out their own costume. Being able to choose offers a sense of control and ownership over the day, and with a little bit of planning you can make choosing a costume a fun process that you share together. One area where you can assist in this process is helping with narrowing down choices. 


For some individuals that might involve asking some questions, while for others it might make more sense for you to pick a smaller selection of costumes based on their interests for them to choose from. The goal here is to avoid taking total control of the process while also being there to offer support if your support is needed!

Considering Sensory Needs

Another great reason to select a costume together and in person is the question of sensory concerns. 


Halloween costumes are often designed to prioritize looks over comfort, and this can mean a whole array of unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable fabrics, materials, and designs. 


Here are a few common issues that can pop up with a given costume:

  • Difficult fabric

  • Elastics

  • Unexpected tightness or looseness

  • Uncomfortable masks or accessories

  • Face paints

  • Clothing around neck, arms, hands, and ankles

Not all of these sensory challenges are impossible to overcome! If a costume seems perfect save for one pesky accessory it’s always worth considering if there is a viable workaround. But their existence is a great reason to try on costumes as much as possible ahead of time; one piece at a time if needed. Trying in person will help you eliminate options that just aren’t going to work and think about adjustments for options that could be viable.


One other option worth considering if traditional costumes prove to be a challenge is going the homemade route. Sometimes making a costume out of traditional clothing can be both more comfortable and a fun creative challenge, plus it gives you control over acceptable materials and accessories. While homemade costumes can involve some limitations, it can also be the best of both worlds!

Once You’ve Picked a Costume

Once a costume has officially been picked out, some individuals may benefit from rehearsals (on an as-needed basis) to really prepare for the big day. 


This can be an especially helpful step if the costume does turn out to be ambitious and might require some getting used to while also participating in special celebrations or regular daily living activities. 


Practicing is also a great way to get excited about the choice we made and the buildup to the big day!

🗓 Building Halloween Into Your Existing Schedule

Outside of costumes, there’s all sorts of events and activities that rightfully mark Halloween as a major schedule disruptor, and even people choosing not to participate in any events might find that their schedule has changed to accommodate the season. 


For those of us who need or work with individuals who need a reliable schedule, the sheer magnitude of change can be overwhelming in its own right. But that’s not the same as saying change is impossible or something we can’t handle! 


By anticipating some of the changes that we know will come with Halloween, we can prepare ahead of time to navigate those moments as they come and make the most of the season on our own terms.

Fit the Seasonal Theme Around Your Daily Rituals

Outside of costumes, there’s all sorts of events and activities that rightfully mark Halloween as a major schedule disruptor, and even people choosing not to participate in any events might find that their schedule has changed to accommodate the season. 


For those of us who need or work with individuals who need a reliable schedule, the sheer magnitude of change can be overwhelming in its own right. But that’s not the same as saying change is impossible or something we can’t handle! 


By anticipating some of the changes that we know will come with Halloween, we can prepare ahead of time to navigate those moments as they come and make the most of the season on our own terms.

Using Social Stories

One quirk of Halloween and other major holidays is that they often contain social norms that simply don’t exist any other time of year. This can be a stressful situation to navigate, especially for people who just want to enjoy activities like handing out candy or trick or treating without being told they’re doing something wrong! 


While we wish this social pressure were not a part of the Halloween experience, one way of alleviating some stress around those situations is with social stories. The AGU shop has some Halloween focused social stories available to practice some of those unique situations.

Scripts

Supplemental to social stories is figuring out what we want to say in a particular moment to make everything go smoothly and feel generally stress free. A great starting point is laying out what you know about how things like trick-or-treating interactions might  go and choosing what we want to say from there. 


If you’re not sure where to start, we have a great starting resource available for free in our shop. For some autistics it may be necessary to work out additional communication supports such as bracelets, a special device, or a system you create together. 

The important thing is that it’s supposed to be fun, and the person you are supporting should be in on the fun too! Be mindful of any and all moments for self-advocacy and make sure to solicit feedback whenever possible.

🎮 Seeking Out Alternative Activities

Speaking of fun, nobody ever said you had to go trick or treating to have a fun time at Halloween! Most communities have a whole range of themed events going throughout the month, some of which may be right up your alley! Common events include local “trunk-or-treat” exchanges, store-sponsored gatherings, and parks and rec or town festivals.


Even at home you can have a fun family game night! Maybe your usual games take on a bit of a spooky theme, or maybe you just celebrate your fun costumes. Of course there are always Halloween games and icebreakers out there worth considering.

Beyond family gatherings, even offering a selection of Halloween movies, shows, or stories can be a fun ritual that any person can pick up on when they are feeling the spirits. As overwhelming as the number of choices related to Halloween can sometimes be, the upside is that you can often find a way to celebrate that is on your terms.


So good luck out there this year, and here is hoping we all get to experience the amount of fun and frights that is right for us as individuals!

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