October 25, 2021

How to cope with Halloween when you are Autistic

Tips on how to make the Halloween Period less scary

Lydia Wilkins

Guest Writer from Mademoiselle Women - Documenting life on the Autistic Spectrum

How to cope with Halloween when you are Autistic

Outside the leaves on trees are changing to autumnal hues, influencers are littering Instagram with photos of pumpkins and the aptly spiced lattes from places like Starbucks, and shops are packed with outfits of ghosts and goulies everywhere. Yes, you guessed it; it’s late October - and that means Halloween is finally upon us.

For one night every single year, some of us go out of the house dressed in all sorts of spooky costumes to go trick or treating. Others may just like the handing out element - complete with house decorations. However, this is not a celebration for everyone - and some may find it difficult. These are my tips for coping with Halloween:

Be Aware Of Unhelpful Schemes

With anything that ticks ‘other’ in a world that was built by straight white men, usually with a university degree, there are various schemes that are designed to 'help' us. As an example, most of us will be aware of the Sunflower Lanyard Scheme - something which has gone global with just a very short inception. However, there are also unhelpful schemes that we should be aware of, and avoid if at all possible. There are blue pumpkin bags available for collecting sweets and other sugary goodies in, for example - the blue being to signal that this is an Autistic child who is out and about. However, the history of such a thing is very problematic - and I’d like to urge you to think twice about using something like this. Just be aware of unhelpful schemes masquerading as being there to support Autistic people which have not been designed by or in consultation with Autistic people.

Take Into Account Sensory Needs

Whenever it comes to anything social - such as Halloween, an innately social activity - we should take our sensory support needs into consideration. This enables us, firstly, to have some self awareness. As well as this, it allows us to negate potential triggers - ultimately meaning that we can enjoy ourselves just that little bit more.

Hypersensitive to noise? Ear plugs can be a potential aid to get around potentially stressful situations. (Think of trains, for example; they are not fun. Ear plugs can go a long way.) Do you experience specific challenges when it comes to clothing, such as with seams? Consider ways to negate this as best you can, such as using your regular clothes for your halloween costume or just wearing a hat or mask if this is appropriate for you. Find social situations difficult in terms of communication? Consider creating yourself a script or utilise your AAC device as best you can.

That being said: adaptations for support need to work both ways. That is to say that this is not just on you to take responsibility - there should also be reciprocal support!

Have Specifically Set Start And End Times For Any Social Event

Here in the UK we have venues that are essentially like haunted houses for Halloween; basically, we attend the venue where actors try to scare us. It’s a little bit more adult, whereas in the UK trick or treating is sometimes described as a child’s activity, usually stopping midway through secondary school. There are other social events like this that are centred round Halloween and the concept of October.

When it comes to planning these sort of outings - especially because, you know, we are still in a pandemic! - it can sometimes be helpful to have a specifically set start and end time. This can help in terms of managing reduced energy capacities; we all know what the spoon theory is by now, after all! ‘Pacing’ can be very helpful - as well as if you have a co-morbid condition, too. However, it also has an added benefit if you feel very anxious about the pandemic; Covid 19 still poses a huge risk around the globe, despite some people thinking ‘I’m over it’. Having a designated start and end time can help manage if you feel very anxious.

Make The Social Expectations Clear

Like we just discussed: support for access needs goes two ways - it is not just something that Autistic individuals have to ostensibly take all the responsibility for.

If you are with an Autistic person - such as if you’re students going out for an event - or if you are a parent taking a child trick or treating, making social expectations clear in a non patronising manner would be absolutely wonderful. Don’t draw attention to us deliberately - being ‘outed’ as an Autistic individual in some contexts can be incredibly humiliating. It could be something as simple as running through a schedule verbally with everyone - and repeating if necessary later on, just to be reassuring. Or put the event into your Tiimo App with a checklist so people know where they are in the activity and what is coming!

Making social expectations clear is not exactly easy - but then again, having to read into a world that is so often inaccessible is not at all easy for us, either. Misunderstandings and miscommunication can happen; we are all human after all. Being supportive will win our loyalty over probably any day of the week - rather than deciding to draw attention to our differences. Because that is just otherwise unkind. And probably bullying, too.

Be Aware Of Co-occurring Conditions

No one seems to know exactly why, but Autism seems to very often go hand in hand with other conditions - and by that I mean conditions such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, etc. Separating neurodiversities can be difficult in the sense that they so very often overlap; often this exercise can be fruitless, as well as ultimately pointless.

Just be aware that co-occurring conditions can sometimes - and often do - have an impact, and it may be outside of your knowledge or frame of reference. Sometimes there are stereotypes about being ‘grabby’ around sugary goodies, for example - or being lazy in walking slowly. Being aware of co-occurring conditions, and just that little bit more accepting, can make a world of difference to someone who may feel a bit self conscious. Again, if you are Autistic and have co-occuring conditions, be extra kind to yourself. Hopefully there is someone who you trust and can communicate to that you might need extra accommodations on the outing (for example, more rest stops, a queue buddy so you aren't having to stand for a long time).


Lydia is an Autistic UK-based journalist. She is particularly passionate about disability and social justice issues. She is also the author of the Autism Friendly cook book which will be out next year. You can find her blog and newsletter here

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