Halloween and Autism — What To Do When Costumes Aren’t An Option


Fall is my favorite season and dressing up for Halloween has always been something I enjoyed, even as an adult. I shamelessly admit that one of the things I most looked forward to after our son was born was costumes and Halloween-time. Baby in a lion costume, anyone? It doesn’t get any cuter. I had visions of my family in group themed costumes each year and trick-or-treating together. If someone had looked into a crystal ball and told me that my son would be terrified of costumes and refuse to wear one, I wouldn’t have believed them. What kid doesn’t love to dress up? My son. Judge me if you want, but this has been a hard one for me to swallow.

autism and halloween
Halloween 2014: only 8 months old and not yet afraid of costumes

He didn’t have an autism diagnosis until after we had experienced three Halloweens with him. Looking back, it all makes sense to me that we struggled so much to find something he would wear. My son can’t wear a piece of clothing with the tag still attached. He panics if he doesn’t have socks on. So, costumes? It just isn’t going to happen. I’m here today to show you how we are prepping my son for Halloween this year and how we still dressed up with (non)-costumes in the past.

Halloween and Autism — Pre-Diagnosis

My son wasn’t old enough to go out on Halloween the first year, so when it rolled around the next year I could hardly wait. At the time, he was 19 months old, and we didn’t yet have an autism diagnosis. He was obsessed with Toy Story, so I wanted his costume to be along those lines. Halloween week came, and he refused to let me put any costume on him, myself, or the dog. (Yes, I dress my dogs up for Halloween.) Any effort to do any of the above resulted in screaming, attempts to pull the costume off himself or others, and finished in a meltdown.

I was the panicked mom in Target the night before Halloween searching for anything that would resemble a costume. Then it came to me. PAJAMAS. There are always character pajamas available. The Halloween gods were apparently watching over me that night because, sure enough, there were Buzz Lightyear pajamas in his size. SCORE. I held my breath as I dressed him in his “costume” and breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t bat an eye. So, our second Halloween was a sort of a success. We didn’t end up going out in the neighborhood because it was pouring rain, but I got my Halloween picture. I don’t know who was more upset—James or the dog.

Halloween and Autism experience
Halloween 2015

Adding a sibling

Last year, still no diagnosis, and a younger sibling added to the family, I started racking my brain earlier. I knew that a costume wouldn’t fly, but my determination to come up with a family themed costume never wavered. My in-laws had recently come home from a Hawaiian vacation and bought the kids little Hawaiian outfits. Hmmm…could this work? James’ outfit looked like regular clothes: shorts and a top. We started talking to him about Halloween and reading books about dressing up. I bought leis for everyone and a grass skirt for myself. I laid out everyone’s costume for a full week before Halloween so he could inspect it when he wanted. Halloween rolled around, and it was a success. We joined up with our neighbors (who have four boys) and he watched as they went from house to house collecting candy. Soon enough, he was hooked. Success!

Halloween and autism no costume
Halloween 2016: Family Costume Success!

Post-Diagnosis and Prepping for Halloween

This year, I see things differently. I know that costumes upset my son. I know that his family members in costumes upset my son. Anything on his face? FORGET IT. This summer, we stumbled across a You Tube channel and show called Blippi. The actor plays an energetic, goofy, lovable, educational character named Blippi. He dances, sings, plays and has helped my son in more ways than I can tell you. Blippi has an episode about Halloween, and my son instantly became more interested in it and everything that surrounds Halloween after watching it.

Think outside the box for costumes

You don’t need to buy a $40 official costume from Target to go out on Halloween. Look for ways you can use regular clothes as a costume. For 18 (long) months my son had a stuffed cat he had to bring with him everywhere. Buy khaki pants and a green shirt and you have a perfect zoo keeper costume! Pajamas make great costumes and your child will be none the wiser! Just do a quick Amazon search, and you’ll have dozens of options to choose from: skeletons, TV characters, animals, and more. Train conductor? Try jeans and this shirt.

Do a dress rehearsal

If your child shows interest in Trick-or-Treating, go around to neighbors homes the day of, or week of who are willing to practice with your child. Letting your child become comfortable with the tradition of Halloween may ease some anxiety for them.

Keep Trying and Know When to Call it A Night

It has been a challenge for me to not put my Halloween expectations on my son. If your child wants to participate in the fun of Halloween, let them try. If it doesn’t work out, tell them it’s ok. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Isn’t that the greatest parenting lesson after all? Take what you think parenting would be like, what you think your child would be like, and what you think you would be like as a parent, roll it up in a ball—and throw it out the window. Sometimes, you have to unlearn what you thought life would be like — and enjoy the present situation.

What is your child dressing up as for Halloween?

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Kate has been living in Nashville since 2008 when she moved to town for work. She met her husband, a Pittsburgh transplant, through eHarmony (they were even on the commercials!) in 2009, and they married in 2011. James was born in 2014 and Anna in 2016. They also have two rescue dogs. Kate is the youngest of 4 (3 older brothers) and always imagined she would have a large family. That idea shifted once she became a parent! Kate is still trying to navigate being outnumbered during the days while her husband is at work. Kids keep Kate’s Type A Personality and need for Ultra-Organization in check. She has a sign hanging in her house that reads, “Let whatever you do today be enough” as a constant reminder that grace—not perfection—is what is important. Before quitting work to be a full-time stay at home mom, Kate was the giraffe keeper at the Nashville Zoo for several years. She also worked for Ringling Bros taking care of the animals. She lived on a train and traveled to a new city every week by rail. Kate flies back to Minneapolis several times a year with kids in tow to visit her family. If you need advice on how to survive air travel with kids, she is your gal! Her first born had flown 20 times by his first birthday! Her ultimate wish is that her family will move back to Minnesota someday. When Kate has kid-free time, she enjoys gardening, flea markets, decorating, margaritas, college football games, and days at the lake. Follow along with her chaotic life on Instagram: mrscort



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