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Take the nightmare out of Halloween

httpswwwflickr-comphotoskoadmunkee10701967196Halloween is meant to be frightening. But for children on the autism spectrum Halloween can be extra scary for all sorts of reasons:

Changes in routine. Doors being knocked and doorbells being rung. Unusual sounds and sights. Extra and unexpected noises. People and houses looking very different to normal. The unusual social script that goes with trick or treating. General chaos… and that’s all on top of monsters and witches!

Here are our tips for making the night less tricky and more of a treat!

Getting ready

All autism parents know that it’s important to make sure their child knows what’s about to happen. So help your child understand what to expect on Halloween beforehand.

  • Think of all the issues that might come up. Is the dog going to bark more than usual? Will your house look different? Will siblings be excited and noisy? Will the school have routine changes that you need to know about? Discuss all of these with your child before the night.
  • Talk about Halloween. Show your child pictures of all the things they might see and hear.

    A social story about Halloween for children with autism and other special needs.

    Click here to download a simple social story about Halloween for children with autism.

  • Get some books from the library about Halloween to read.
  • Make a social story about what they’ll do and what they might experience. We have a very simple Halloween social story that you can download: What Happens On Halloween.
  • Some things that seem obvious to us might not even occur to the child with autism. They might need to have absolutely everything explained. So make your social story be about how it all works but in more detail. For example, you might need to explain: When they will put on their costume. What time they will leave the house. That they should wait until the door opens before saying “trick or treat.” That they shouldn’t go into houses but stay on the doorstep.
  • Plan your route. Where will you go? Are any of the houses extra scary looking and best avoided?
  • If you’re decorating your own home, consider doing it gradually so that your child isn’t confronted with a jarring change.
  • Take your child on a dry run. Practice the door routine with a neighbour who knows them well.
  • Practise saying “trick or treat.” And “please” and “thank you” too!
  • You can also practise answering the door and offering treats.
  • Some children on the spectrum take everything literally. Make sure they know that they won’t really have a trick played on them. And also that they don’t have to play tricks on anyone else either!
  • If your child has allergies or intolerances, you might want to drop off some of their own treats with the neighbours you’re going to be calling on.
  • Agree on what happens with all the treats they get afterwards. Can they eat them all in one go? Will they be put away and given out one at a time?

Avoiding costume catastrophes

For children with sensory issues, dressing up can be horrific in more ways than one! Costumes might be: Too scratchy. Too tight. Too loose. Too hot. Too cold. Strange smelling. Or simply all wrong. Even face paint can be extra unpleasantly sticky and greasy. And some children just don’t like not looking like themselves.Boy in Halloween costume

  • Other people’s costumes can be terrifying. Explain that every costume has a normal person on the inside, just like them.
  • Don’t make them wear a costume if they don’t want to. They can still join in without one.
  • Let your child know that it’s fine to just wear part of a costume. For example, a Spider-Man costume might be acceptable except for the mask. So leave off the mask.
  • If possible, find a costume that they can wear over clothes that they usually feel comfortable in.
  • Or make a costume that’s mostly just things they usually wear anyway.
  • Practise wearing the costume before the big night.

Making tick or treating less tricky 

For most of us, the trick-or-treat routine seems obvious enough. However, for children on the spectrum it might not make much sense. Being outside in the dark on a night when everything and everyone is deliberately strange and noisy can be overwhelming. So take it all at your child’s pace.

  • Choose a time to leave the house and stick to it if you can. Also let your child know how long it will take. This can either be by setting a number of doors to knock on, or a time limit.


    Some children with autism and other special needs find it hard to say ‘trick or treat’. Click here to download cards they can use instead.

  • If your child wants to join in but is completely daunted, you could just knock on the doors of people your child knows well.
  • For some children on the autism spectrum, knocking on one door is a huge achievement. So it might be that you get everyone dressed up just to knock on one door. Or two. But next year it might be three or four or a whole street!
  • Offer a time-out. Either by coming home for a while and retreating to a quiet room, or by sitting in the car for a bit if you’ve had to go further afield.
  • Don’t forget the ear defenders if your child needs them!
  • And your child’s comfort toy if they have one.
  • If your child has speech and language difficulties, consider giving them a card that they can hand over. The card can explain that they find it difficult to say ‘trick or treat’. We have a sheet of them that you can print out here.
  • If going out trick or treating is just too much for your child, give them the option of staying home and helping to answer the door.

We hope you have a great evening, whatever you do! Tell us about your experiences on our Facebook page!