For some families, Halloween can be a joy and a struggle for various reasons. Yet, it can also be a great time to be creative and connect with our children in ways that are unique and helpful. I invite you to explore Halloween tips to be used in the home or classroom to make the most if this fun holiday.
One mom reported that her non-verbal daughter, with major sensory isms, had been dragging her to costume racks of late. She has been actively finding ways to let Mom know she wants to be part of the fun this year.
A father shared that his son with Asperger’s wants a solar system for a costume. Creating a solar system costume has been “their” special project to work on together as they design and build the costume each night.
Halloween’s special for our family because my son was born on October 31. He enjoys the combination of trick-or-treating along with the partying. Each year has been unique. We have moved through the highs and lows of sensory, diet, social and communication issues. Yet, we have always been able to use Halloween as a great way to “teach” and support him on so many levels. At this time of year, I like to refer to those teachable opportunities as “spooktacular moments”.
Some years, my son’s costume would become quite elaborate and expensive. However, I just couldn’t resist his requests because it is at this time of year that key developmental moments are seen such as:
- he’s excited and verbal in appropriate ways;
- he’s interacting with his brother and sister;
- he’s engaging other shoppers with Halloween questions;
- he’s planning what he would do at school for the parade,
- and he’s anticipating how much candy he can collect trick-or-treating.
Leading up to the big day, we do quite a bit of role playing. We also create social stories about what to expect and how to interact with others during these Halloween events.
It seems the costume gives him confidence and the chance to “practice” his skills.
His school even asked him to dress up as a clown to entertain younger classmates, and he was a hit.
Even around the house, my son happily decorates for the holiday by making pumpkins and ghosts. His grin this time of year could melt an iceberg, and we love seeing it.
Spontaneous Learning Play
All of those spooktacular moments provide wonderful opportunities for social interaction and reinforcement of all skills. I call these opportunities, SLP – spontaneous learning play. SLP is all of the learning that takes place on the fly in those moments mentioned above. These SLP moments provide opportunities for:
- connection and clarity
- engagement and development
- pure fun and joy
Halloween Tips in the Classroom
All of those spooktacular moments and spontaenous learning play opportunities do not have to be limited to the home. Teachers can get creative and use the fun of Halloween to expand on developmental skills, such as these Halloween tips:
Storytelling by reading a number of Halloween books based on your child’s reading level. Some ideas…
Crafts as found on Special-Ism’s Halloween Pinterest Board
Turn-taking as found in Why Encourage Dramatic Play Skills?
Engaging in polite small talk. Ideas for facilitating small group small talk can be found in Social Skills Groups 101
Making diet “safe” food. Reach out to Mom and see if she can send in her child’s favorite treats and have them on the ready for a swap.
Creating visual story boards and schedules with the characters being vampires, ghosts, etc. Explore visual schedule ideas on Pinterest and then get creative!
We did Yoga using the Halloween theme as a story and making kids into mummies with toilet paper. Kids loved it!
Halloween Tips for Parents
I have been there and done that over the years with my son. I would like to offer you Halloween tips to consider as you prepare for an awesome Halloween for your child.
Remember to relax and have some fun yourself.
Set Reasonable Expectations
Find out what your child wants to do. Determine what fears or concerns he/she may have through whatever communication strategies you use.
Customize the Costume
What clothing can your child tolerate? Is your child tactile defensive? If yes, masks or face paint could be a problem.
Children without tactile sensitivities seem to thrive within an altered identity.
Many children really do use their imagination this time of year – go with it to the best of your ability. Does your child have a favorite character or toy that they would like to be?
One non-verbal boy repetitively brought blocks to his mother. He kept putting the blocks on his head and shoulders. Then, they realized – their son wanted to be a castle! So, they made it happen!
Create a Support Plan
Develop a plan.
Does your child have typical peers who can walk their sibling up to the doors to trick or treat?
Will you need to stay right with your child or can she be somewhat independent?
Do you have a “safe house” to go to if he becomes upset?
Create visual schedules of all the activities. Be sure to include the location of each activity. Consider taking a pre-tour if possible.
Plan an Alternative Party
If your child cannot handle going to houses, maybe plan one visit and have a party there. Or host a party at your home.
Explore More >> Ideas to Start Your Own Halloween Tradition
Create a Social Story
Talk, practice and prepare.
Use visuals and conversation 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 and add these tools to your social story.
Cater to Special Diets
Are you on a special diet? Then this requires planning.
If you have other families willing to help your child, drop treats off ahead of time at their home. These are the treats that your child will get when he goes to their door.
Consider a “swap the treat” approach. We would swap our son’s treat for appropriate ones. We would make a game of swapping the food-dyed, high fructose corn syrup candy for another desirable treat. Sometimes it went well. Other times, he would have a meltdown because he really wanted what everyone else had. We always had a compromise on the ready to ease the upset.
Flexibility is the Key
If he decides to skip the outfit, or change to something else, let it be okay. After all, what is the goal for the night? Detach from any rigid preconceived notions or outcomes and you will discover that it truly makes it easier on everyone.
Return to #1
Enjoy Halloween. Celebrate whatever aspect of the holiday goes well for you and your wonderful child!