How to Help Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum Avoid the Dreaded 'Costume Battle' this Halloween

On October 31st, what are the chances of this happening...?


Parent: It’s time to go trick-or-treating! Let’s put on your costume!


Child: NO!


Ok, this is actually a big fear for parents who have kids on the spectrum. They will talk about Halloween for the whole month. They will put up Halloween decorations all around the house. They will carve pumpkins. They will talk about how AWESOME their child’s costume is going to be. Then Halloween comes. And their child won’t go anywhere near his costume.



How can we help to avoid this situation and get our kids excited about Halloween and wearing their costumes?


A great way to prepare kids for Halloween is by having them bring their costume to your session for a test-run.


We know how our little ones can feel about those pesky little tags and seams. If a child has never tried on his Halloween costume, and parents wait until the day of to put it on him, chances are high there is going to be a bit of a struggle because of a) possible sensory issues, and b) issues with flexibility. Doing a costume test-run is a great way to ensure that the child is comfortable in his costume, and excited about putting it on.


Say the child has no sensory issues with his costume - it’s just a matter of rigidity. For example, your conversation with the child might go something like this.


Therapist: Wow, your Halloween costume is so cool! Do you want to put it on?


Child: NO!


Therapist: But it’s so cool. Everyone loves Batman. Can you put it on so I can see your awesome Batman costume?


Child: NO!


Therapist: Aw, I’m going to be so sad. I really wanted to see it. Can you just put it on for a minute?


Child: NO!


Therapist: Ok, why don’t you just put it on for one minute, and then we’ll play your favorite game after?


Child: NO!


Does that sound right?!



So what can we do differently, to actually get the child in his costume?


We have to get the child to come up with the ideas - we do this by asking questions. Asking questions improves ideation AND flexibility.


Instead of:

Do you want to put it on?

Ask:

Who’s going to put it on?


Instead of:

Can you put it on and show me your cool Batman costume?

Ask:

What costume are you wearing?


Instead of:

Can you just put it on for a minute?

Ask:

How many minutes do you want to wear it?


Instead of:

Why don’t you just put it on for one minute, and then we’ll play your favorite game after?

Ask:

And after you put on your costume for two minutes, what game should we play?



For kids who have less language and can’t answer open-ended questions, try choice questions and mix in some fill-in-the-blanks.


Instead of:

Do you want to put it on?

Ask:

Who’s going to put it on? You or me?


Instead of:

Can you put it on and show me your cool Batman costume?

Ask:

What costume are you wearing? You’re going to wear ______!


Instead of:

Can you just put it on for a minute?

Ask:

How many minutes do you want to wear it? Two minutes or five minutes?


Instead of:

Why don’t you just put it on for one minute, and then we’ll play your favorite game after?

Ask:

And after you put on your costume for two minutes, should we play Pop the Pig or Pop Up Pirate?


When the child is in his costume, talk to him about how it feels. See if his parents can make adjustments to the costume to make him more comfortable. Maybe that means taking out the tags. Maybe that means ditching the mask. Maybe that means CUTTING OFF the sleeves (yes, I’ve done this). Encourage the parent to do what she needs to do and think outside the box in order to make the child comfortable.


If you work with children who could benefit from AAC on Halloween, make sure to check out this free download from SLP Mary Katherine Dally of AAC for ALL. She created an AAC bracelet that can be worn while trick-or-treating!


Enrollment for my new online training course for SLPs, ASD from the Inside Out, is now closed. However, enrollment will open again in January 2020! If you’re interested, make sure to sign up here to receive an invite.


Jessie Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist, autism expert, and owner of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a multidisciplinary clinic in Los Angeles. Jessie is the creator of ASD from the Inside Out, an online training course that teaches SLPs innovative ways to assess and treat young kids on the autism spectrum.

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© 2020 Jessie Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP