With Halloween fast approaching, many families and excited children will be gearing up for a weekend of festivities.

But for people who are autistic Halloween can be a sensory feast for some or a night of terror for others.

However, like it or loathe it, people can't ignore it.

And that's why Durham-based charity, North East Autism Society (NEAS), have published five top tips for making Halloween happy for everyone.

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Kerrie Highcock, NEAS Family Development Manager said: "For many children, Halloween is an exciting time as they look forward to getting dressed up and going trick or treating with their friends and loved ones.

"But people might not realise that, for autistic and neurodivergent children, some Halloween traditions can pose challenges.

"At the North East Autism Society, we passionately believe that no child should ever miss out on a chance to make special memories.

"Which is why we've put together tips to help families prepare for and overcome some of the most common obstacles that may crop up at this time of year, as well as helping the wider public to understand how they can help."

Halloween enjoyable for autistic children
Halloween enjoyable for autistic children

Kerrie added: "It could be something as simple as giving their child a t-shirt to wear under their scratchy fancy dress costume, or leaving a tub of sweets outside the door so that trick or treaters don't have to ring the loud doorbell.

"While these might sound like trivial solutions, we know that the smallest changes can often make the biggest difference."

1. Costumes

Sensory differences affect almost everyone who is autistic.

Whether someone is under stimulated and crave sensory stimuli, or they are hypersensitive to sensory experiences, clothes have to be thought about to meet each of our needs.

If you enjoy the feeling of crispy, noisy fabrics then shop-bought costumes may work for you.

But, if not, why not wear a comfortable outfit that you're happy in, and then add the costume.

This small tweak could be the difference between happy haunting or a night of upset.

2. Go public

There are so many uncertainties about a night like Halloween.

Who will come to the door? Will they knock or ring the bell? Will the visitors be wearing colourful or noisy outfits? Will they be loud or quiet? - The list is endless!

For many autistic or neurodivergent people this level of uncertainty can be tricky to navigate, so North East Autism Society suggests deciding in advance on a few Halloween non-negotiables – and then go public with it.

For example – if you don't want uninvited visitors why not print off our sign and display it a few days ahead of Halloween and on the night itself.

Same goes for those who want to take part but have their own preferences or challenges.

If you find verbally communicating difficult then create a sign explaining this so neighbours understand.

Pupils at Thornhill Park School enjoy Halloween activities
Pupils at Thornhill Park School enjoy Halloween activities

3. Play to your strengths

Halloween can be a sensory fairground, so why not make the most of this opportunity and experiment with some of the games and elements of Halloween that appeal to you?

Some super sensory ideas include bobbing for apples, having your face painted, eating brightly coloured garish foods, listening to haunting sounds, find treats (jelly sweets) in slimy worms (cold tinned spaghetti).

If that seems too much there couldn't be a better night to turn down the lights, snuggle up and read stories.

4. Think ahead

For parents of autistic children, it could prove beneficial to take some time to prepare your child for the weekend's festivities.

With people likely to be wearing masks and costumes, they can be scary to some because they look so different.

A good way to prepare could be to use visual stories.

Autistic individuals may also feel anxious as Halloween approaches, so why not use a visual countdown on a calendar to show how many days there are left.

5. Preparation is key

Transitions are a part of everyday life, but they can cause feelings of anxiety, stress and prove extremely challenging for some autistic individuals.

This could also be the case at Halloween as its unlikely that getting dressed up and going door to door trick or treating is part of a child's typical routine.

To help children understand and prepare for when trick or treating will start and end, North East Autism Society says there are a number of things you could do.

One way to ease transitions is to plan ahead and prepare.

Try using a visual planner to show what is going to happen and in what order.

Remember that not all autistic people are visual learners so information may be presented in a different way. Could you use voice memos or tactile items?

Overall, Halloween can be a great opportunity to spend time as a family having fun – and there are no rules as to what that needs to look like.

Make your favourite food, do your favourite activities, dress in your favourite outfit and make memories together.

We'd love to see your Halloween photos when you're done!

In addition to these tips, you can access free downloadable resources from North East Autism Society here.

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