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Often as SEITs, we forget to prioritize typical childhood experiences, in favor of education. However, our job is to help improve kids’ quality of life. Children with autism often miss out on Halloween. Today we are going to talk about how to help prepare kids on the spectrum for Halloween and how to support their families.
My first year working on Halloween, I was dressed up as Rey from Star Wars. I told a child we were going to pretend to go trick or treating. There were tears, not mine.
Children with autism often get scared about Halloween for a variety of reasons. There are crowds, loud noises, people wandering around, you have to talk to other humans and make eye contact. Then there’s the fire and the sudden movements.
It’s reasonable to be afraid.
Parents might be inclined to skip it completely. However, I advocate for the opposite.
Children with autism already miss out on so many childhood experiences, many of which might help them develop more. Halloween is an important one.
That first year my student and I wound up setting up different fruits and different points on the table. Our fingers went trick or treating.
Now years later, that same child goes trick or treating like a champ (at least when there isn’t a pandemic).
This blog will cover what techniques I used to get that kind of progress, and how to talk to parents about Halloween.
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How Did I Do It?
That progress did not happen overnight, so let’s stress that. It took a long time.
The first thing I did was assess the root cause of the problem. Why did the idea of going trick or treating terrify them so much?
After I figured out the root cause of the problem, that was what I and the rest of their team targeted. In this case, it was a fear of loud noises that prevented them from leaving the house much of the time.
It took years to work on that, and every year on Halloween we would go trick or treating as a special treat during sessions.
There’d be a bunch of stuffed animals set up everywhere, with treats (fruits or nuts or other motivating food). We’d go from animal to animal, and say “Trick or Treat!”
Even though it was years before trick or treating happened, this ritual was important because when the big day finally came, they were familiar with how it worked.
What do I do This Halloween Though?
So you don’t have time to build up and address that big problem? No shame in that. It takes years.
The first thing you need to do this year is set reasonable expectations? What can your student reasonably do this year? What do you need to do to make it happen this year?
I also don’t recommend doing what I did that first year, where I told the kid the day of. That was overwhelming.
The next year there was more of a build-up. We talked about Halloween on October first and did something fun and Halloween every day.
Things to Do!
- Halloween Books
- Making Decorations
- Pumpkin Carving
- Brainstorming Costumes together
- Listening to Halloween Music
- Learning Halloween Dances
- Video Modeling for Trick or Treating
All of this helps get your student excited about Halloween, which makes them more motivated for the holiday. It’s about building suspense.
Make sure to pick things that motivate your students, and they’ll enjoy. If it’s overwhelming for them, take a step back. Always follow your students’ cues about what is working and what is too much.
What about the Parents?
I always start out by asking what they are planning. Remember, as a SEIT the parents aren’t your enemy. They’re your collaborators.
Ask what their plans are for Halloween. This will allow you to establish what they’re doing. Maybe you’re on the same page, and you only need to know to make sure your student is prepared.
If that’s the case, think about what plans they have, and how you can prep your student to be successful at them. They might be going to a special Halloween party instead of trick or treating, in which case your prep is totally different.
If they’re planning nothing or think Halloween is not the holiday for their child, ask them about their rationale.
Listen to their concerns, and express your own, along with your reasons for thinking their child is capable of participating in Halloween, autism, and all.
Make sure to lay out the benefits of engaging in a typical childhood experience both in the short term and long term. List all you are willing to do to support their child and your plan on how to get them there.
Ultimately the parents are the ones in control of what their child does on Halloween. If they aren’t on board, you can still do the crafts and fun things to improve fine and gross motor skills. Just skip the specific prep work, and bring it up again next year.
At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do to prep your student with Autism for Halloween is identifying what is giving them the most difficulty, not just on Halloween but on all days of the year.
Targeting that skill will improve their quality of life the most, and allow them to participate in a lot more than Halloween.
If one thing your student struggles with is impulse control then be sure to check out this blog post on Autism and Impulse Control. And make sure to join my email list to get access to the free resource library and never miss a post!