When my son, Jackie, was young, I dreamed of the fun we would share over the holiday season. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. On Halloween afternoon, we would load up the wagon with all his stuffed friends and begin the journey down the street. Most years, we only made it a few blocks.
Because Jackie has high functioning autism, the crowds of children, the fear of personal contact, and the idea of approaching strangers for candy was just too much. By the time he was in the third grade, we had to switch gears and rethink how we could make Halloween a fun memory instead of a stress-filled day. We decided on a party instead of the traditional door-to-door trick or treating. Here are a few ideas to make your ASD Halloween party special.
Having a Halloween party and featuring a movie is a great way to celebrate while protecting your ASD child’s internal system. It’s low key but fun, and there are so many great Halloween-themed movies out there. We have viewed old-time favorites such as "The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" or "Curious George Boo Fest," but there are other not-so-scary Halloween choices for older children as well. Check out "Monster House" and "Shrek" movies for an older group.
Serving treats of pizza and orange-and-black cupcakes adds to the fun, and goody bags filled with the candy they may miss out on can be added. You might also slip in some healthier options like fruit snacks or pretzels. The great thing about a movie party is that you can control when the fun ends so that your ASD child doesn’t become over stimulated. It’s also a great time to encourage socialization skills!
One year, I wanted to do something different. The constant ringing doorbell was becoming a real annoyance for my son. I decided to move the Halloween party to a local hotel. Many hotels understand the issues of special needs children and are happy to accommodate them. I rented a room and set up trick-or-treat stations around the hotel with the help of the hotel staff. We invited a small group of friends to rotate around the stations, collecting their candy and visiting with the staff.
My son had an easier time trick or treating in one place with staff that I could introduce him to before the party. The children ended up with a small bag of candy and small toys. After the trick or treating, we headed to the pool for a short swim and then to the room for Halloween cake. When the party was over, we had a fun time sleeping over with no doorbells.
Older ASD children can sometimes feel the loss of doing what they see as normal things. One idea to help them feel as if they are fitting in is to plan a progressive trick-or-treat party. We began at our house with three or four friends. I set up a small scavenger hunt in the house for the children to search for treats. They found a small bag of candy corn hidden on a bookshelf and fruit snacks behind a door.
After all the treats were found, we moved on to one of the friend’s houses where another scavenger hunt, game, or treat was waiting. Each friend had an activity at their house and the children had a fun time figuring out what awaited them at the next house.
They also enjoyed walking from house to house for a short time. Though there were still some crowds to navigate, the end destinations gave a place for decompression before heading out again. If your child’s friends live too far away, consider driving to the destinations. You can park a few blocks away so that the children can still have the experience of being out with other trick-or-treaters. The progressive party is a great way to have the best of both worlds.
Halloween can be a difficult holiday for children on the spectrum. We can make great memories even if the new traditions aren’t the same traditions that we have experienced in the past. Be creative and work with your child to make Halloween a great time filled with fun, friends, and, yes, a little candy.