Halloween Costumes for Kids with Autism & Sensory Processing Disorders

The first and last time my little dragon ever wore a "traditional" Halloween costume.
The first and last time my little dragon ever wore a “traditional” Halloween costume.

When I think of things that make my skin crawl I think of bugs, snakes and other creepy stuff.

What makes my son’s skin crawl? A stray tag, a bulky costume, wearing something on his head, paint on his face and these days pretty much anything that isn’t his blue t-shirt from Target (we have three).

He loves everything about Halloween. Trick-or-treating, pumpkin picking, carving and decorating, and candy (although he’ll only eat the m&ms) but just the thought of putting on a costume upsets him. In fact, the last time I was able to get him to wear a full costume he was about 8 months old.

Over the years we’ve had to get pretty creative with costumes to make Halloween fun for all of us. Here are a couple of tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way that can help make Halloween fun for kids with autism and sensory processing issues.

Find a “t-shirt and jeans” costume.  Okay, not literal jeans as many kids with sensory processing issues don’t like the feel of denim. What I mean is, find a costume that can basically be pants and a t-shirt. A few ideas to get you started:

  • A mime – black sweat pants, striped shirt, white gloves
  •  UPS delivery person- brown sweat pants, brown shirt (draw buttons on with permanent marker and use a little paint for the ups patch)
  • A crayon- matching sweats from head to toe in their favorite color and paint CRAYOLA on their shirt
  • Pajamas- superhero pajamas are a life saver -soft, comfortable, easy and practical.
  • Skeleton- paint bones onto black sweats
  • Waldo – glasses and hat optional
  • Aerobics instructor, dancer, gymnast – as long as the leotard isn’t an issue, these costumes are soft and movable
  • A child character like Charlie Brown

kid couple costumePartner costumes. Load up the costume on a person who likes to wear them.  Although my son hates buttons, I was able to convince him last year that a shirt was a jacket and my kids went as a werewolf both”before” and “after” midnight. A few more ideas:

  • An animal trainer and have a friend or sibling be a lion or even dress up the dog
  • Boo from Monster’s Inc. and you can be Sully
  • Shaggy and you can be Scooby
  • Calvin and you can be Hobbes
  • Christopher Robin and you can be Pooh

Let the props tell the story. My son won’t wear a hat, but he’ll carry one. He’ll also use photo prop glasses (the kind on a stick), or carry an umbrella. With a little creativity you can use props to help tell your story.

  • Cover an umbrella with cotton and the child can wear all blue to be a rain drop
  • Wear dirty sweats and carry a chimney sweep style broom
  • Tape streamers to an umbrella and be a jelly fish
  • Carry a bag of money and be a burglar

It’s okay NOT to dress up.  Passing out candy and seeing a parade of costumes can be fun too.  Sit outside on the front steps and watch the parade of costumes pass by. Maybe have a costume on hand in case they’re inspired to try it, but don’t worry if they don’t.

A few additional tips.

Be aware of how your child might react to scary costumes. Look at pictures of costumes together. If you’re afraid of how your child might react to something scary, trick-or-treat early.

Visit just a few, friendly houses and stay close to home. Set it up so that if you sense a meltdown is coming you can call it a night quickly.

Buy it early, try it out. Give them time to get used to the costume, props and the whole trick or treating thing before you’re out and about.

Let your child be your guide. We’ve learned to never underestimate my son. Just when we think he can’t handle something he does brilliantly and when we’re sure he’ll love something we couldn’t be more wrong.  Take the cue from them to get as “into” Halloween as they want. After all, Halloween can be celebrated anyway that works best for your family even if it doesn’t look the way you imagined it.

Is your child on a special diet? Don’t let that get in the way of trick or treating. Find out more about the Teal Pumpkin Project.

Note: Every child is different, this includes children with autism and other sensory processing issues. While I’ll never in my life be able to get my son to wear overalls for example, it might not be an issue for another child.  Like wise, what does work for our family might not work for others. Has something worked for you? PLEASE share it in the comments below so other parents (and kids) can benefit.