Q. My 4-year-old daughter has autism and Halloween is a difficult time for her. She seems to be on sensory overload with all of the activities, costumes, and candy. What are some ways that I can help her enjoy this day?
A. Halloween is certainly a busy day that can put any child on overload. While it is an exciting day for many children, it can be overwhelming and difficult for children with special needs.
The holiday is full of new sights, sounds, tastes, and activities for children to process. Those heightened sensory elements along with the social interaction demands of trick-or-treating can turn a fun night into a frustrating experience for many children and their parents. However, by planning ahead and anticipating some challenges that may arise, you can set your daughter up for a night of treats rather than tricks.
Let’s look at some ways to make Halloween an enjoyable day for your little one:
Tricks and treats, ghosts and goblins, costumes and candy—expose your daughter to all that Halloween entails before the actual day. You can show her books, sing her spooky songs, let her watch age-appropriate Halloween shows, and take her shopping for her costume.
Practice and practice some more
Practice dressing up in her chosen costume. Practice trick-or-treating at home or with a neighbor. Practice answering questions such as “What is your costume?” or “Would you like some candy?” Practice walking around your neighborhood at dusk to allow your daughter to get used to the decorations and route you will walk on Halloween.
Let her give out the candy
If wearing a costume and hearing new noises will be too much for your daughter, let her stay home and give out candy to those that come to the door. Be sure to practice her role in the trick-or-treating exchange so that she is comfortable in this new task.
Trade in the candy
If your daughter is highly sensitive to sugar and dyes or has food allergies, let her trade the candy she collects for a special toy. Be sure to have the toy ready to give to her when you ask her to hand over the candy.
With positive plans in place, Halloween can be a fun day for all children no matter their specific challenges. Kudos to you for knowing your daughter’s needs and wanting to empower her to have a happy Halloween experience. I hope the day is filled with treats for both of you!
Allison Crumpler is a speech-language pathologist and the director of clinical compliance for Raleigh Therapy Services, Inc., a multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice in North Raleigh. (919-791-3582)