Preparing a sensory-friendly Halloween for children with autism

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Posted at 6:31 AM, Oct 21, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — Halloween can be overwhelming for children with autism.

As Halloween approaches with many events starting this weekend, families who have children with autism are starting to prepare for the holiday.

“Michaela, my oldest, she’s into anime and she is dressing up as one of those characters. Melanie, she’s going to be a princess, naturally,” said Kelli Higgins, executive director for Autism Community Connection, a nonprofit based in Johnson County serving people with autism and their families.

The costumes are ready and both of Higgins’ daughters who have autism are gearing up for Halloween. It’s a time of year that can be overwhelming for children with autism with different decorations in people’s yards, some even scary.

“Another thing that could be hard for them or be overwhelmed with is the noises of certain decorations that pop out at you to scare you. It’s sometimes the unknown of what’s going to happen that could be kind of hard for individuals. And even some smells,” Higgins added.

“One of the symptoms of autism is feeling that sensory overload that comes with loud noises, large crowds, any situation where they may have to socialize in a large group setting,” Mikaela Malott, a representative for Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers said.

Higgins said what works for her is, “Get the costumes early and start practicing wearing the costumes. Also, some costumes can be more confined, itchy, and that way you figure out a lot sooner so that you can adjust it to make it easier for them when you go out with family and friends.”

And perhaps read stories, she suggests, that explain Halloween and the process of trick-or-treating and try role-playing.

“Practice at home giving and receiving treats within your buckets and baskets or bags that you have,” Higgins said. “That could be very helpful for the understanding and have a successful Halloween and trick-or-treating.”

Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers with 19 locations across Indiana practices this socialization with their families and is encouraging the community to be aware of the challenges of folks with autism and be more inclusive this holiday.

“Just being understanding if they’re not wearing a costume,” said Malott. “Not all children will be wearing a costume because of some of those sensory challenges. And also, be understanding if they don’t say trick-or-treat or if they don’t say please or don’t say thank you.”

“They might not say anything,” said Higgins. “Just offer them the treats that you have and just be mindful if they’re grabbing for a lot of treats at the same time, they might not understand to take one or two. Just to be kind, be understanding and accepting of anybody who’s coming to your door. Even teenagers who come to your door. Just be understanding that they’re out and they’re wanting to just have fun.”

Trunk-or-treats is also a good way to practice trick-or-treating for children with autism. The Autism Community Connection is hosting their trunk-or-treat on Saturday, Oct. 23 from 10 a.m. to noon at the New Hope Church parking lot in Greenwood, sponsored by Unlocking the Spectrum.