March 15, 2017

Parents of children with autism often want their children to take part in the Halloween tradition along with their neuro typical peers. According to one typically developing five year old I interviewed named Kate,

« Halloween is the best holiday of the year ! »

A big part of Halloween is dressing up. However, while parents of neuro typical peers are enjoying shopping for Halloween costumes with their children in anticipation of the big day, parents of children on the autism spectrum are often dreading trying to get their child to put their costume on and keep it on the length of an evening of trick-or-treating or the duration of a Halloween party.

Dressing up can be a challenge for a child on the autism spectrum for many reasons. Many children with autism have difficulty understanding imaginary play and have sensory sensitivity or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Both of these factors can make dressing up a challenge for a child with autism.

Imaginary play is often a difficult concept for children on the autism spectrum. Getting a child with autism to understand dressing up as someone other than them-self can be quite difficult due to this lack of understanding of imaginary play.

Lisa Jo Rudy, mother of a teen on the autism spectrum and Guide to Autism explains

“Children with autism rarely learn through imitation, which means that the pretend play associated with Halloween — “being” a superhero, for example — does not come naturally. It may be up to you, the parent, to help your child by modeling pretend play, offering suggestions, and helping your child learn to “fly,” “save the day,” and otherwise discover the joys of make believe.”

To further complicate dressing up for Halloween, many children on the autism spectrum have sensory sensitivity or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) which makes it difficult for them to tolerate different kinds of fabric against their skin. Purchasing or making your child’s Halloween costume early and then having them wear it for periodically longer periods of time leading up to Halloween can help your child become more comfortable wearing his or her Halloween costume.

Different families have different strategies to help their little ones on the autism spectrum get ready for Halloween and for dressing up. Sasha Stevens, a mom of an eight year old boy with autism shares her Halloween preparation routine.

« We begin getting Tom ready for Halloween about a month in advance so that he can participate in the activities with the other children at his school. First we show him pictures of potential costumes. We talk about the different themes that correspond with each character. Once it seems he is gravitating towards one costume, we specifically focus on getting him excited about being that character. Make believe play is a really hard subject for Tom. We read books that are related to his chosen character. We watch clips on YouTube that show his character. Then we purchase the costume and get him excited about wearing it. We encourage him to wear it around the house for short periods of time. This also helps him become comfortable with how it feels to wear the costume as he has a lot of sensory issues. We have always found that, for Tom, getting used to something new by letting him interact with it on his own time schedule and helping him through the steps of a new activity is the most important thing we can do as parents to help him have fun with his peers ».

About the author 

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


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