Neurodiverse Families, What Are Your Tips to Get Ready for Halloween?
Until we can make trick-or-treating more inclusive, let's share our hacks for getting through spooky season with minimal meltdowns.
Between all the different issues that impact our kids, we have enough to deal with. Gatekeepers and external judgment seem extra hostile on Halloween. Let’s do something to make the lives of other neurodiverse families smoother this season.
BE SURE TO READ THE COMMENTS! I’ve shared tips received via email from tons of parents with great ideas that have worked well for them.
I found this rather strong-worded meme on Instagram and have posted it to my stories every day:
“Kids shouldn't have to carry blue candy buckets on Halloween to indicate autism. Kids don't have to wear some kind of indicator in order to get free candy. If a kid doesn't say "Trick-or-treat" so f*cking what? Here’s an idea, don't be a ginormous t***-waffle who expects children to perform for you to get a 2- inch candy bar. It's free candy day. If you wanna make children jump through hoops for you, just shut your damn Iights off because you are trash. Everybody gets free candy. No costume? Free candy. No talking? Free candy. Too old? Free candy. Parents that look exhausted from walking 16 miles for $20 worth of candy? Free candy for them too! This world is a total f*cking dumpster ﬁre and the idea that a kid on the spectrum has to hold a special plastic pumpkin to be treated like a kid on Halloween is garbage. Just give everyone the free candy and shut the f*ck up.”
(I bleeped out some of the most offensive language, believe it or not.)
I usually don’t communicate this way myself, but definitely understand where it is coming from. This holiday, though it is beloved by many of our kids, is also incredibly difficult for neurodivergent kids, and we don’t need anyone making it harder.
Parents, please share your suggestions to help neurodiverse families prepare for Halloween, and navigate the day, without losing it.
Put your suggestions in the comments. I’ll share them with our community.
Halloween social communication can be draining and overwhelming for our kids, even though it is scripted (“Trick-or-treat… Thank you.”). When my son was little, I rehearsed the routine with him until he had it down. When it came to the main event, he was so overstimulated by all the people, sights, sounds, and especially tastes, that he would forget to say thank you. Plenty of the other kids didn’t say thank you either, but I was so hyper-focused on him doing it right that it became a tense situation.
He still had a blast, but oh the rigidity… mine as well as his. If we are hyper-vigilant about our kids getting it “right,” then our stress will rub off on them too.
Sensory integration Halloween style can be ghoulish. In our Brooklyn neighborhood, trick-or-treating is pretty crowded and overstimulating, even for me. I love seeing all the kids and costumes, but I get exhausted when there is pushing, shoving, or loud noises. If I start to feel claustrophobic, the fun’s over. It’s time to go home.
My little one looks forward to this day for weeks, even months. He wants desperately to wear his precious costume but feels like every seam is trying to scratch his skin off. We get in, we get out. We don’t let it drag on.
Unfamiliar equals unsafe to our kids. When my son doesn’t recognize the kind of candy he has been given, or know what it will taste like, he will stop to examine every unfamiliar piece, to the confusion of the kids trying to step around him in their effortless excitement.
When he comes out of his candy examination, I watch him look up, disoriented, and I call out to him. He’s hearing my voice but not knowing where it is coming from… or not hearing my voice and being completely turned around. I see him freeze. I push through the throngs of goblins, tap him on the shoulder, and lead him out to the sidewalk. Repeat.
Any changes to our schedule throw my son off, but we especially protect the sleep schedule because we have experienced the aftermath of letting it slide. It has to be a very special occasion to let our kid stay up late. Halloween is one such special occasion. It isn’t just about sleep, although that is how all of our nervous systems recharge. It is predictability, which equates to safety. It is anticipation of the next morning. There will be a cranky day. There will be an extra meltdown in there somewhere. Sometimes we just do it anyway, because… Halloween.
My kid loves candy, but his nervous system and digestive system don’t. The first year we were planning to go out of the building trick-or-treating, he was 3. I arrived at the Halloween party at his pre-k, and his plate was already overloaded with treats. Snug in his adorable dragon costume, his cheeks were stuffed with goodies that tasted so good he just couldn’t stop. He told me his stomach hurt, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised. On the way home on the bus, he looked a bit green, even though he was a red and gold dragon.
As soon as we stepped off the bus, he puked on the curb. I called myself lucky (that it didn’t happen on the bus), took him home, and snapped a few adorable dragon photos before putting him to bed.
The next year he decided to be cookie monster, and nothing was going to stop him from grabbing all the treats he could. Most of them went uneaten, and eventually disappeared.
What questions do you have? What do you anticipate will be the hardest part? The most fun? Every neurodiverse family finds their own way to navigate these questions, and it can be helpful to hear different perspectives.
Here are a few tips to start us off:
E. told me “One thing we did was delay trick-or-treating at all! We were going to take him for the first time when he was in pre-k, and when the afternoon came he actually said he didn’t want to. He didn’t really have friends yet, and he wasn’t comfortable interacting with unfamiliar adults. so I just said okay, and we didn’t go! In kindergarten he was ready to start, so we did.”
My friend S., who is more vigilant about sweets than we are, has employed the “Switch Witch” to negotiate a trade of candy for a toy.
L. says “It is your kiddos’ Halloween, go at their pace. One year we visited five apartments, they were thrilled! That was all they wanted.” This is such a good reminder for me, because I tend to project my expectations during holidays.
Kids will change their minds about everything, says J. Be flexible, and “curb your tendency to want to create a certain experience.”
“We talked about wearing something comfortable and ordered and returned a few costumes already,” says A.
A. says “Walk the route in advance. See what it will look like at night, if possible.” And create a map! I love this idea!!!
What’s your perspective?
What Halloween tips do you have for neurodiverse families? I know you have a 2-inch sweet nugget to share with other parents who are struggling to make trick-or-treating manageable for their unique kids.
Halloween can be sweet but tricky. We need all the help we can get navigating these traditions. Please put your suggestions in the comments!