By Reneé Britt, Dawson's mom
Halloween can be both challenging and rewarding for families with kids who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The little things that come naturally to most kids on Halloween—running to a neighbor’s door, speaking to strangers and reaching into a basket full of candy—can be tough for kids with autism. This year, Reneé Britt, whose son was a patient at Marcus Autism Center, offers tips to help make this holiday more enjoyable for fellow autism parents and neighbors hosting trick-or-treaters.
My son Dawson was diagnosed with autism when he was 3-years-old. We’ve found that maintaining a routine and making detailed plans helps us navigate holidays and ensures that our family has fun and stays safe.
These are our Halloween musts:
- Create a safe space. While trick-or-treating, Dawson rides along in a red wagon that acts as his home base as we travel from house to house. This allows Dawson to have a safe and secure space.
- Don’t underestimate your neighbors. While our first priority is keeping Dawson comfortable, Halloween offers a unique opportunity to spread awareness among our neighbors. Last year, I created a discreet sign to explain a little bit about Dawson that read, "We are awesome with autism and may struggle with words. Thank you for your patience and understanding!" I kept it folded up in my pocket and only pulled it out if someone was wearing a mask or if Dawson seemed a bit apprehensive. Each neighbor we encountered was very receptive and happy to help.
- Practice before the big day. Dawson's school practiced going to different classrooms, knocking on the doors and saying, "Trick or treat!” Practicing with neighbors or at friends' houses is a great idea. This allows your child and your neighbors to know what to expect and how to respond on Halloween.
- Have a costume back-up plan. We always have Dawson try his costume on ahead of time to make sure he feels comfortable and confident. We also keep a back-up costume on hand just in case that once-perfect Superman suit isn’t going to fly when it’s time to walk out the door.
- Trick or treat in short bursts. We trick or treat around our block and then stop back in at home to pass out candy. After a bit of rest, we venture back out for another trick-or-treating trip. My kids enjoy giving out candy just as much, if not more, than they like going trick-or-treating, and the break seems to lessen the stress of the evening.
Remember, Halloween is a fun time for your family. To my fellow autism parents, don't sweat the small stuff and focus on finding what works for you. To the community, be open-minded and patient when the pint-sized racecar driver at your front door is still practicing his, “Trick or treat!”