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Therapy Centre for Children with Autism
and Developmental Delays in London, UK
Halloween and Fireworks Night – Tips and tricks for parents of children with autism

For many children (and adults) across the globe, Halloween and Fireworks Night are a much-loved event in the yearly calendar. However, for children who experience difficulties with changes in their routine, rigidity with the clothes they like to wear, or those that have sensory sensitivities around textures, noises and busy loud environments, Halloween and Fireworks night can be a recipe for disaster. The combination of these events can lead to meltdowns and eventually, restrictions for the whole family in being able to enjoy the Halloween and Fireworks holidays together.

For those of you that are interested in beginning to involve your child in the Halloween and Fireworks holiday celebrations, our Clinical Lead, Andreea Istrate, MSc.BCBA, provides you with some simple strategies you can use with your little ones, both on the day and ahead of the events, to help take the ‘screams’ and ‘explosions’ (well at least the unwanted ones) out of the Halloween and Fireworks Night holidays.

1. Use of social stories

Social stories can be a wonderful resource if your little ones are able to access them. You can practice what is expected of them (walking with you, knocking at doors, saying “Trick or treat”/ showing their “Trick or treat” Board, accepting limited amounts of sweets) or go over the scary decorations (sounds, textures or looks).

It is recommended to start using the social story a few weeks in advance of the event to familiarise your child with it. Social stories can take multiple forms, either on paper (if you are particularly artsy) or in video form.

Here are some resources that might help:

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlLxMeflJxs
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=it5cwPBn-4Y
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCfYD5E66o8
  • https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.autismspeaks.org/stories/halloween-teaching-story.pptx

2. Tolerating crowded spaces

As a general rule, if your little one is getting overwhelmed by crowded environments, it might be a good idea to slowly work on building up tolerance to these types of places. Building tolerance will not be done in a day, therefore this should be tackled months in advance. Start off by going to a less busy café. Continue by going to a busier playground. Once your little one is able to tolerate these places, you can increase how crowded the environments are and go to a shopping centre.

If you are not able to work on these in a timely manner, remember, you can always go at an earlier time before the other children.

3. Engaging with decorations and textures

Just like above, the key for successful interaction with scary decorations and textures can be done through increasing tolerance to them by pairing them up with your child’s favourite things. If your child is particularly scared of skeletons (especially the ones over 7 feet tall with scary green eyes), start off by showing them videos of little skeletons and do-little activities such as colouring or decorating. Always involve your child’s favourite activities. In term of textures, just like above, start by having it in the environment and then slowly have the child interact with it by touching it briefly, gradually putting one finger in and maybe even throwing in little toys they like and have them scoop them out with you using different tools. Remember – don’t put too much pressure on them, this should be fun. We want their experience with these activities to improve each year, taking a gradual approach is key!

4. Wearing Costumes

Dressing up and wearing spooky costumes are a key feature of Halloween and of course, everyone wants to dress up for the event. Depending on the preference of your child, there are a variety of options you can choose from to help differentiate the level of involvement your child can manage. Some options could be face painting, hand painting, using a t-shirt they may already own and decorating it yourself (like a t-shirt) or maybe a full costume with accessories.

Be aware that your child might not tolerate a full costume and so you should try different options ahead of time. You might even want to get a costume that is a few sizes bigger so that your little one can still wear their clothes underneath.

Furthermore, you should always take your child’s interests into account, and get them a costume or make them a costume based on their favourite character. This way, they are more likely to wear it.

5. Tolerating loud noises

Although fireworks are very beautiful, they are also extremely loud. As someone who also struggled with the loudness of fireworks, there are a few ways your little ones can still access the beauty of the show. The first option would be having them wear some comfy noise cancelling or noise reduction headphones. Some children do find it difficult to wear them, so might be a good idea to try them out beforehand. Another way might be having a personal item that is highly preferred and provides an extra layer of comfort and familiarity, such as a preferred toy, a blanket or snacks.

6. Safety

It is always important to have our little ones walking close to us or holding our hand, but with how hectic and unpredictable Halloween can be, it’s even more important. Practice in advance walking holding hands. Furthermore, wear something they can identify you by, like a coloured jumper or even the same costume if you’re brave enough!