If you have a child on the autism spectrum, you know the challenges that are coming. Here are some tips to help handle the sensory overload and hidden social rules of Halloween:
1. Expect meltdowns. Sensory overload is pretty much guaranteed when there is commotion, noise, and lots of flashing/moving lights. Don't be too hard on yourself or your child. If he needs to get away from stimuli, don't feel like the night has been ruined. As long as your child has enjoyed some portion of the experience, you've done well. And if it has just been one of those difficult days, there's always another day or a next year.
2. Practice each night this week. Practicing can reduce the anxiety of learning contradictory social rules (like talking to strangers, taking candy from strangers, walking around outside after dark, etc.) all in one night. If you can get your neighbors involved, that can make it even more realistic and provide a greater teaching opportunity.
3. Let her try on her costume. This gives you a chance to determine any sensory issues and make necessary changes. Sometimes, she will not want to wear that $50 costume she wanted last week; she might feel like a sweatshirt and jeans, instead. That's okay. (You could work with that.) Go with whatever makes her comfortable.
4. Make a contact bracelet with your (adult's, not child's) name and phone number and have your child wear it, in case you and your child get separated.
5. Narrate. Communication is very important to help alleviate your child's anxiety. This video provides some excellent tips for successful communication.
6. Go early. Most kids like to trick-or-treat when it gets darker, to see the lights and get a little scared by the lurking ghouls and goblins. But for the autistic child, we have to be more aware of their triggers like flashing lights, crowds, or the dark. It's best to go early, when it would be the most enjoyable for them.
7. Make your own Halloween. If you have to come home early because of an overload, buy a bag of candy and a Halloween movie or a gingerbread house kit. Watch a movie, build a gingerbread house...do some sort of activity, so they don't feel as much like they are missing out on anything. And have FUN!