I have questions about autism holidays. . . . especially Halloween. Autism advocates are attempting to help students with autism join in the “fun” of the holiday, but there are some recommendations floating around that make me ask questions.
Some “good" ideas may not be the "best" ideas
There are a lot of opinions about “best practices” for autism. Everyone doesn’t always agree, but that doesn’t mean anyone is wrong. They just have different ways of managing needs and getting to their goals. Please keep that in mind.
Here are my questions
1. What about blue buckets?
One of the ideas floating around the internet involves having children with autism carry blue pumpkin buckets so everyone will know that they have autism.
Is this a time when those with autism need to stand out? Trick-or-treating is typically a very unstructured, unpredictable, disorganized activity for all children. There are many children who will exhibit unexpected behaviors during this type of activity.
Will those with autism look totally different? Is it important to make them stand out?
Or is this a time when just being part of the group will be acceptable?
Who is the blue bucket helping? Parents of autistic children? The people who are giving out the treats? Does it change anything for the child?
2. Communication tools
Another idea I’ve seen on the internet is giving those who are non verbal or those with significant communication challenges some kind of picture tool to communicate the traditional “Trick-or-Treat” and “Thank You” messages.
Some of the suggestions are simple picture cards. I’ve also seen communication bracelets that have a sequence of several pictures to express a message. Ideas to consider.
I’m a strong proponent of using visuals to support communication.
I wonder if the visuals need to change when the audience changes or when the communication purpose is altered.
Should a student use the same visuals in all locations? I think most would say the communication system stays the same when you consider the regular routines in a student’s life.
But Trick-or-Treating is different
Does that change how the visuals are used or what they look like? Size? Location? Way they are presented?
The bracelet idea proposes different circumstances
Who will receive the message on the bracelet? Someone the child knows? A stranger?
Are you teaching the child to walk up to a stranger to hold out their arm and let the stranger possibly hold the child’s arm or hand or manipulate the bracelet so they can read what it says? Is that what you really want to do?
Think it through to the end of the routine
There is not one way to do everything. I love when parents and educators put on their creative brains to find ways to help our autistic students participate in their life opportunities with success.
Just keep this in mind. When you are creating new routines, it’s important to follow that routine all the way through to the end to make sure it is accomplishing what you want it to accomplish. Life is full of “unintended consequences” and autism Halloween routines are not exempt.
Of course, everything depends on the individual student.
Here’s what I think
Halloween occurs once a year. Considering that, it’s probably not worth a lot of time and energy. This is one of those times to keep it simple. That’s why I love the bag in the photo above. It solves a lot of the issues.
There is just one thing for the child to manage. The bag. If you want, you can make it say THANK YOU on the back and some children will understand to turn it around to communicate that message.
It becomes a simple communication tool for one important day (from the child's viewpoint). Done!
Now you can spend your time on communication goals that are more important.
Holidays in general are more important
Each year is filled with lots of special days to celebrate. Holidays and special occasions should be fun. But that isn’t everyone’s experience. These events can frequently be the source of anxiety, meltdowns and tears for our students with ASD.
Sometimes our autistic children encounter difficulty exactly at the time everyone else is enjoying the activity. The stress level for parents and teachers goes way up trying to anticipate how to avoid “messy” problems because students don’t manage these situations well.
If you celebrate holidays, you need this!
Scroll down to tell me what you think about autism Halloween.