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HeARTs for Autism®
Supporting Families and Raising Awareness for the Autism Spectrum Disorders

October 2007 – Halloween

Hello Families and Friends!

Here we are at that interesting time of the year – Halloween. Parents of all types of kids have been commenting that their kids seem even more excited this year – high energy and high expectations for the day and night of dressing up and sugary delights.

Surveying Autistic Spectrum families, the results are similar, including even our more profoundly affected children. One mom reported her non verbal daughter with major sensory issues has been dragging her to costume racks and finding ways to let her know she wants to be part of the fun this year. A father shared his Asperger son wanted a solar system for a costume, and this has been “their” special project to work on the design each night.

My son Kevin has been excited for weeks, and we went to a store with his siblings to search for a costume. First, he was going to be a magician, then a dog, and then it struck him from afar – the Pirate costume with a scary ghost mask. He had to have it. He had to have a musket type gun too which makes some kind of noise...and a gold plastic coin he found loose on the floor. He didn’t think he needed a sword. I meanwhile am checking the price as compared to what my other 2 were picking out. But I can’t resist because this is a key moment – he is excited; he is verbal in appropriate ways; he is interacting with his brother and sister; he is engaging others in Halloween questions and showing them his mask; he is planning what he will do at school for the parade and how much candy he can score; he even knows he does not want the cute handled Halloween bag I got from the Dollar store – he wants a pillow case to carry his stuff; he has a grin that would melt an iceberg.

So, we have had the costume for 2 weeks now. Every morning he checks the closet for it, partly to make sure his brother didn’t get the gun, but mostly to look at the coat, belt, big hat with feather, gloves and mask. When he comes home he tries it on, asking “Do you think people will be scared of me?” He laughs as he takes the mask off to say “Don’t worry, it’s me.” He is speaking mostly full sentences when he describes what kids in his autistic class are going to wear. He talks about the school parade. The other day, we did role playing as he wanted me to dress up. I asked him to help decorate and to color pictures of pumpkins to hang around the house.

For us this has been one of those wonderful times. What I call SLP – spontaneous learning play. Moments of connection and clarity...moments of engagement and development...and moments of just pure fun and joy.

Three years ago, Kevin was all dressed up going through the neighborhood with his brother and sister. He greeted the treat givers, he thanked them, and he even told several “Hey I love what you have done with the place!” Meanwhile, the 2 “typical” kids are sulking along, not saying thank you and barely making eye contact as people say how cute they are. At that moment, my husband and I couldn’t decide if we were doing really well or really bad at this parenting thing, given that it was our “autistic” son who looked the most socially adjusted. But our observations did say Kevin was doing well. Besides all this, Halloween is his birthday, so he thinks it is all one big party for him. What also helped is his teacher had been teaching about the day through social stories as a way to prepare the kids.

A few parents have asked for tips on Halloween. Depending on your child and the facets of how the Spectrum Disorder affects him or her, tips will obviously vary. However, thinking like IEP parents, decide what it is you do know about your child and find out through communication strategies what they want...and decide what you want.

Halloween Tips

1. Remember to relax and have some fun yourself.
2. Find out what your child wants to do or what fears or concerns he may have through whatever communication strategies you use. Involve the teacher and/or aide.
3.The costume – what can your child tolerate – are they tactile defensive? Masks or face paint could be a problem. Other kids seem to thrive in an altered identity. I have found many children really do use their imagination this time of year. They may have a favorite character and really want to be it. One non verbal girl used a Disney video to show her parents who she wanted to be – Belle. One boy brought blocks to the mother and kept putting them on his shoulders and head...until they realized he wanted to be a castle. Now that took some creative doing, but it was a unique costume.
4. Develop a plan for support that night – are there typical peers who can walk with her up to the doors to trick or treat; do you need to stay right with the child or can she be independent; do you have a “safe house” you can use if she becomes upset?
5. Make a plan about the trip through the neighborhood. Make a visual. Make a pre-tour if possible. Pick a few houses and then return to a safe place to go through the treasures.
6. If your child cannot handle going to houses, maybe plan one visit and make a party there.
7. Talk and practice and prepare. Use visuals and conversations prompts as a way to engage your child. Reinforce concepts of please, thank you and focusing on others. Think of what Sensory items you might need in your “toolbox” that night.
8. Are you a GFCF, Feingold diet house? Then this requires planning. If you have other families willing to help, drop treats off ahead of time and those are what your child gets. OR, you could try the swap the treat approach. We used to swap Kevin’s treat for appropriate ones. He can now eat more foods as his body came into balance, but 5 years ago, NO. We would make a game of swapping the food – dyed, high fructose corn syrup candy for another treat. Sometimes it went well, and other times, he melted down because he really wanted what everyone else had. In the end though, it worked out with compromise, including letting him have some of the regular treats too.
9. Flexibility and Resourcefulness – if he decides to skip the outfit, or change to something else, it is okay. What is the goal for the night? Detaching from any rigid preconceived notions or outcomes makes it easier on everyone.
10. Managing other kids costume pieces and candy – sometimes, just like any kid, the ASD kid will want what someone else has. Have strategies to ease her away and maybe replace her focus with other highly preferred items.
11. See #1. Enjoy the time and celebrate whatever goes well for you and your wonderful child!

Have fun! Be safe! Happy Halloween!

Robin V Schwoyer
HeARTs for Autism, Director

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