Halloween time should be fun! It’s also an awesome time to practice social communication opportunities! Before you start, understand where your child is on the Social Communication Bridge® in ALL environments and know the practical, yet critical, golden rules of S-CAT®:

  1. Comfort precedes communication and progress does not occur groups; build comfort and DO strategies AWAY from group settings
  2. Social engagement via Frontline™ and Handover/Takeover™ will benefit ALL children with Selective Mutism!
  3. Demystification is critical; help your child acknowledge and assess
  4. Asking and answering questions is important! (If you don’t ask, no chance to answer!)
  5. Minimize the need to ‘think’ and process! Preplan, script, and facilitate!

Halloween should be fun and silly for the whole family. Allow time for warm up, a child may cling to his/her parent in the beginning. Encourage children to be present and to take part at the level they are comfortable with according to the Bridge®. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Continue reading to learn how to make Halloween-based social communication activities easier for a child/teen with Selective Mutism, social anxiety, extreme shyness, or a related disorder.

In the Home Environment: Minimize Expectations!

  • Give your child a role in encounters to establish control and reduce anxiety
    • Help pick out candy, prepare Halloween bags, decorate, be the door opener, hold candy bowl, or give candy out, play with scary or silly décor
  • Go over the routine in advance. PREPARE and roleplay!
    • “Dress-rehearsal” for the doorbell ringing and giving out candy! Everyone should have a role and/or take turns!
    • Some children love to dress up = Disguise! (Mask!) Other children feel uncomfortable. Don’t push the costume! Just support and provide a role! Parents dressing up can take pressure off of the child since attention on PARENT!
  • Dual costume with friend/sibling!
  • Buddy process! Tag teams! Handout candy together (Less expectation and eyes on child!)
  • Be fun and silly! Just have fun and practice without expectation
  • Level of communication is based on child’s highest level of communication where they do not feel stressed or anxiety! FEAR begets FEAR… This must be a pleasant and upbeat experience!
  • Think “engagement” = Handing out candy: Stage 0-1 engaging to nonverbal!
  • Practice greetings! It’s their home. They are the host = big shot role! o Stage 1 NV: Waving game (how many kids can you wave to?)
    • Race to wave? NV initiation (Stage 1 b)
    • Stage 2: Play a tape of Hi and Bye (Stage 2) or another message!
    • Stage 3a: HI/BYE Copy Game! Person says “Hi” or “Bye”, child says “Hi” – verbal responding
    • Stage 3b: Race to say “Hi” or “Bye” first – verbal initiation!
    • Say greetings together ALL at once: “Thank you for coming!”
  • Big Five Bracelets are ideal for this!
  • Guess the questions that people can ask:
    • “How are you?”
    • “What are you for Halloween?”
    • If not verbal, parents can bring child into the conversation via choice: “Are you Batman or Robin?” (Transitional Stage 2)

While Outside of the Home:

  • Prepare child in advance: where are you going, what should you expect, who is going with you?
  • Prepare your child for Trick or Treating by practicing at home first: knowing what to expect reduces anxiety and allows for more confidence and control
  • Know where your child is on the Bridge to establish how the child participates in the actual trick-or-treating
  • Never PUSH to say ‘Trick or Treat’ or push to go up to a house if child is shut down

How to use the Bridge® and allow the child to participate:

  • Engage
    • Frontline™– allow child to go up with a parent, sibling, or peer (allows for presence and engagement with support of parents, family, friends. (Pairing)
    • Handover/Takeover™– child can hold out candy bag and allow it to be filled instead of taking the candy themselves. Or the child can hold out the bag while a parent, sibling, or peer picks out candy and puts it in the bag.
    • Wave Hi or Bye
    • Bring into Conversation- parent can ask child via direct choice questions- “Do you want the Hershey Bar or Milky Way?” Child can point, tell parent, or say their choice.

For Halloween Parties in or Outside of Home:

  • Educate others about Selective Mutism and your child. Use the “About My Child” worksheet
  • Arrive early
  • Give child a task or a role in social encounters. BIG SHOT/leadership role!
  • Bring child into conversations via choice: “Are you a Cinderella or Snow White?’
  • Do not direct the child to, “Tell Mrs. Smith what your costume is.”
  • Small group interaction is easier than larger group interaction
    • Are you going out with a big or small group?
    • Does your child know the children?
    • Does your child know the adults present?
    • Best case: Small group, familiar kids, and familiar adults!
  • Be aware of environment: Too scary? Too overwhelming?
  • If planning at home: stagger times people arrive so child can acclimate.
  • If at someone’s house: arrive early to check out décor ahead of time and warm up.
  • Hand items out and use silly props and costumes as icebreakers and as a way to bring the child into conversation

Approaching Costumes: A Huge Issue for Many Young Children

  • Costumes can be very scary for some children, especially seeing adults dress up!
  • Can be a great disguise for many kids! They can hide behind their costumes. May be a great first step towards engaging and communicating with others!
  • Practice dressing up (wigs, makeup, texture, etc.) Especially helpful for our Sensory Kids.
  • Talk about types of costumes a child will see. Scary, Silly, etc.
  • Look online at different costumes in advance to show scary types and funny ones.
  • Go out earlier if possible. There will be more light and less people which will allow for adjustment
  • Make a game out of how many scary costumes there are! Be on the look out! “Eye Spy” helps children think and hence they will shut down less.