Is Halloween really moms low stress holiday?

I recently read an article in an online magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, in which the headline read: “it’s creepy and it’ kooky– and it’s moms favourite low-stress holiday! Here’s why”

I literally guffawed to myself, Low-stress holiday?  

Clearly, they don’t have any children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other sensory sensitivities. During these holidays there is so much that needs to be done like planning and priming, explaining and teaching, comforting, reassuring and calming. Which all must be done before and during this often unpredictable and routine-busting “kooky” day.  

Does this sound stress-free to you, because I sure know at the end of these holidays I need a good destresser session!

Although, sure, Halloween is just one day, it is often stressful for parents and kids of Autism Spectrum Disorder. To make sure everyone does enjoy the holidays that come up, families usually have their way of preparing for the day and I thought I would share with you how my family does it.

As a family, together we have learned to start the process of priming and preparing our three children in early October for the “big day”.

Our eldest daughter, who is age 10 with ASD, has grown to embrace Halloween. She adjusts fairly well now to the regular routine disruption. As we all know routine is key to a healthy balance in our children’s life. Thankfully we don’t have to prepare her for the day as much as we did when she was younger.  Although she is still very particular about how her costume feels!

We have come to discover she despises scratchy, itchy dresses, wigs and tights but she has managed over the years to recognize which types of costumes she would feel best in by just looking at photos of them. What works best for us when picking out a costume is to discuss a character that she really admires. As usual often it will be a TV show character or a video-game character and then we’ll go online and look it up together.

Usually, we will find the costume or some important element of the costume and build on it by using whatever we have around the house. But let’s be honest here, I can’t sew so we don’t get seriously technical! haha. As we all know routine is what keeps us on balance and now that she is a bit older she manages to adjust to the changes in school for one day and is often quite excited to be able to participate in Halloween crafts or activities that are a novelty to her.

Then we have my son, he’s age 8 and recently diagnosed with ASD. In these early ages he is a lot more rigid, and has a lot more difficulty regulating himself when his regular routine is disrupted. He also finds things that are out of the ordinary very off-putting. For example, in school, the children dress up in their Halloween costumes and often like to pretend and play the character they are dressed as.

My son can get upset if a classmate is acting like a veterinarian when he really is just supposed to be acting like an 8-year old boy! This is where the black and white thinking comes into play.  I can’t imagine how off-putting it must be for him when kids are saying and doing unexpected things.  Trying to adjust his behaviour to meet the changes in his environment is such a challenge. Can someone say M-E-L-T-D-O-W-N?  

Even his “neurotypical” twin sister can get overwhelmed and over-excited on Halloween.  At home she may run around, acting silly, totally overstimulated with all of the candy and excitement of dressing up in her costume. However, she is normally able slow down her “engine” with a lot of verbal prompting from me. Her brother and older sister ,nonetheless, have more difficulty slowing down their “engine” and stay dysregulated for longer.

In the past few years our routine has worked fairly well for all of us but there are always small adjustments to be made based on the feedback we get from their behaviour, which is always there to tell us something!  

We like to go out trick or treating for a short amount of time and thankfully the kids don’t really have the stamina to travel too far! Then we head home and once we’re there they get to choose a few chocolate treats to gorge on and then my husband and I corral them upstairs to start the bedtime routine before the overtired meltdown begins.  

And even with the much amount of planning and prepping we put in it may not always happen as we planned but we always make mental notes when things go poorly and adjust them for next year.  

We may often think during these holidays “is this one day worth all of this effort and planning?”

I know when I look into my children’s smiling, chocolate-covered faces, I remember how I felt as a kid. And it is definitely worth it!!

I’ve linked a wonderful article with some tips to make Halloween happier for you and your child(ren) with anxiety, Autism, or Sensory Processing Disorder.

How to Make Halloween Happier for Children with Anxiety, Autism or Sensory Processing Disorders

I want to know, what things have you done to make Halloween less stressful for you and your family?

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