Children with autism and managing Halloween treats

It is Halloween in two days and many children go trick-or-treating with the aim to collect as much candy as possible. This poses several risks for children on the autism spectrum and leads parents to wonder how they can offer their children a fun and healthy Halloween.

Many children with autism follow limited diets. Some children with autism are on gluten and, or, casein – free diets. It can be harder to avoid gluten and casein than most people realize and on Halloween the challenges are even greater. Many candy bars contain one or both of these ingredients. In addition, to avoiding gluten and casein, many parents of children ASD children limit their children’s sugar intake as their children are often more sensitive to the effects of sugar, such as over activity and over stimulation.

How do parents of children on the autism spectrum manage their children’s eating behavior on Halloween while still encouraging them to enjoy the holiday?

Stéphanie Dunnaro is the mom of three children, one on the autism spectrum. Her family lives in Paris, France where celebrating Halloween has only become popular in the last ten years or so. She explains,

« Celebrating Halloween is very popular among young children in France now. My son with autism gets very excited about celebrating with his sisters and their friends. I try to limit my three children’s sugar intake and I pay particular attention to how much candy I allow my son with autism to consume. He is also on a gluten and casein free diet. This year, I’ve decided with some friends who also have children with special needs to replace sugary candy with healthy treats from the organic food store. We’ve decided together to create a healthy Halloween for our kids which will allow them to do a mini trick-or-treating evening and enjoy Halloween but maintain their gluten and casein free diets while also reducing their sugar intake. »

Among special diets, the GFCG (gluten-free/casein-free) diet is the most commonly used diet for children on the autism  spectrum. According to Autism Speaks, approximately 16 percent of the population of children with ASD in the US are following this special diet (autismspeaks.org). Many families report that in addition to limiting gluten and casein consumption, they limit their child’s sugar intake because they notice an increase in over activity, self-stim behavior, decreased concentration and increased stress when their children eat sugar.

A local Parisian supermarket, Bio C’est Bon, is offering many healthy Halloween substitutes that can be offered in place of sugary treats, including fruit-based « candies », sliced pumpkin for baking, popcorn,  almond milk and rice milk. All of these special treats are organic and without added sugar. They also offer a selection of gluten and casein free delights. Some local bakeries are also offering similar treats which will help families offer a happy and healthy Halloween to their children on the autism spectrum.

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Alix Strickland About Alix Strickland

Alix Strickland, BCaBA is an applied behavior specialist and founder and director of the Le Chemin ABA VB Learning Center for children with autism and other special needs in Paris, France. She is known as the « Green Behavior Specialist » because she uses natural cleansers and organic foods at her center in addition to making a lot of her own DIY, upcycled therapy materials. She coaches families and professionals in using ABA and Verbal Behavior strategies in France and abroad. Her website is www.lecheminaba.com.