It’s here! The spookiest season of them all - Halloween! Full of costumes, haunted houses, trick-or-treating, and scary surprises, this time of year can be great for your child to have new experiences and participate in fun activities. Although sometimes the decorations, lights, and social interactions can overstimulate a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), making for an unpleasant experience and unnecessary stress. Have no fear! We’ve picked our expert’s brains here at BYS and researched other tips and strategies to help prepare your child for these festivities. We’ve also included other sensory-friendly Halloween activities and crafts that your child and family can do to celebrate the season.

One of the best ways you can start preparing your child for Halloween is to discuss the traditions and expectations well in advance. By using visual aids like books and social stories, and even some role-playing, you can show your child the types of fun activities they can participate in and what's involved to get started. These activities will give your child the opportunity to mentally prepare and ask questions, which can help reduce anxiety. If your child has taken part in other Halloween festivities in the past, remind them of the expectations since it may have been a while. Remember to check in with your child if they start to engage in challenging behaviors or feelings of being overwhelmed, especially from flashing lights, loud noises, and scary decorations. Reviewing self-regulating actions with your child can decrease the chance of this, like remembering to take deep breaths, practice communicating their feelings, and retreating to a safe, quiet space when feeling overwhelmed. These beginning strategies will help your child form a foundation of understanding. Now that your child is prepared and knows what to expect, let’s start planning your child’s costume!

Costumes are half the fun of Halloween and can be exciting to put together and create! The most important element of a costume is how comfortable it is, so make sure it isn’t itchy or too tight. Also, it may be a good idea not to cover your child’s face with a mask if they don’t like their eyes, nose, or mouth covered. Give your child options in advance to see which costume might be best and try to use their everyday clothes so that they are comfortable. Check the weather in advance and make sure your child won’t be too hot or cold in the clothing that they choose. If your child prefers a specific costume that may become uncomfortable, you may also want to have other articles of clothing nearby to change into.

One of the most rewarding activities during Halloween is trick-or-treating. With all the different types of candy and toys they can collect, most children enjoy the gathering process and the reward when they get home. Though sometimes the social interactions can become overwhelming or confusing, it is best to practice ahead of time by walking your child through the process at a friend’s or family’s house to get them comfortable. When trick-or-treating, it may also be best to start during the daytime, rather than after dark, and monitor your child to see how they’re coping. Taking a break every couple of houses may be helpful, as well as asking a sibling or friend to grab an extra candy to bring back. Oftentimes, only visiting a few houses is enough before heading home. Lastly, if your child prefers to stay home altogether, they may still be able to participate in the fun by helping you pass out candy to other trick-or-treaters who visit.

Decorating for Halloween is another great activity to help you and your child get into the spirit of the season! Pumpkins are a staple item during October, and making Jack-o-Lanterns is a fun activity for you, your child, and the entire family. Carving pumpkins can be messy and somewhat unsafe since sharp objects are used, but finger painting is a great alternative. Using washable paint, set your child up to finger paint their design onto a pumpkin during the decorating activities. If you’re looking for something fun to do with the insides of the pumpkin, you can create a pumpkin sensory bag for your child to explore new textures! Fill a sealable freezer bag with the pumpkin insides, duct tape the top so it can’t open accidentally, and let your child enjoy it without any mess. For extra fun, add some small toys or erasers into the sensory bag!

Sensory-friendly crafts are fun and engaging for your child, and can also make for a great family night. One craft to try is to make ‘monster hand puppets’ and put on a family puppet show. Use smaller paper bags and paint with bright colors. You can cut white triangles for teeth and other shapes from colorful construction paper to use for further detail. Finally, you can glue googly eyes or draw a face on your bag. Then, put on a show and see how scary or funny everyone can be! You can even name your monsters and create a story!

Another activity you may want to try is making a ‘spider web rescue’ sensory bin by filling a bin with fake spider web material and hiding small toys or plastic insects within it. Have your child ‘rescue’ the toys before the imaginary spider gets to them. You can even invite others, like siblings or friends, to help as well.

If you are looking for ideas for extra decorations around the house, try making paper plate spiders with your child.

Paint two smaller paper plates of any color, staple or tape them together, glue googly eyes for the face, and use pipe cleaners for the legs. Once finished and all the glue is dry, attach a string to the paper plate spider and have your child help hang them from any surface or doorframe for extra spooky fun.

In the end, making Halloween a sensory-friendly experience takes a little preparation and modification for children and families with ASD but will create happy memories for your child and give opportunities for practicing social and motor skills. We hope that these tips and strategies are helpful and that the crafts and activities will be fun for the whole family. From everyone at BY YOUR SIDE, we hope you have a happy Halloween and fall season!