3 Tricks of the Trade for Surviving Trick or Treating

Imagine you are a human relatively new to the planet, Mars.  For fun, let’s say it’s just you and Matt Damon, as he has been shown to be quite successful there recently (in theaters near you).  However, in this instance, you and Matt aren’t alone.  In fact, you are living in a village surrounded by Martians.  You and Matt do your best to immerse yourself in Martian culture and—you’re proud to say—you’re doing pretty well!  There have been some unusual customs, like putting bushes in homes to celebrate certain holidays and invisible mammals that hide pastel-colored muffins for children to find but not eat.  For the most part, though, you can follow along–until Snoozleplatz, that is. 

As your Martian guides have explained to you, on Snoozleplatz, Martians paint their faces to look even scarier than usual, and wear different clothes called Snoozleplatz costumes designed to make you think they are someone they are not.  You will be expected to engage in the Snoozleplatz ritual as well.  This means that you will be expected to wear clothes different from your usual spacesuit (which was already difficult enough), and the costume will also probably be tighter, itchier, and heavier than you have become accustomed to.  This Snoozeplatz costume may also obstruct your vision.  Even if you should happen to like your Snoozleplatz costume, you will only be allowed to wear it as designated times that are unclear to you.  One of the times you may or may not be allowed to wear your Snoozeplatz costume is to church, school, or a friend’s house—but ONLY if you are told by your guide that it is a Snoozleplatz party.  And at the Snoozeplatz party, you might engage in a gathering-of-treats ritual, but it will always be done in a different way and with different Martians, some of whom you won’t know or like.

Then, at last, The Day of Snoozleplatz will arrive.  At the end of a day, when you are tired and ready for bed, you will be kept awake by your guides.  You will be dressed—like it or not—in your uncomfortable Snoozleplatz costume.  You will go out in the dark, often surrounded by flashing lights and disturbing sounds and sometimes even fog, and engage in a ritual in which you knock on the doors of strangers and ask for treats using a secret password.  Sometimes Martians will not answer the door. Sometimes, a strange Martian will open the door and offer you treats.  Sometimes you will like the treat.  Sometimes you won’t.  Sometimes the treat they offer you might even make you sick.  There will also be lots of other Martians wearing their Snoozleplatz costumes bumping into you, screaming, and running.  But don’t worry, IT’S FUN!


This, my friends, is Halloween for our kiddos.  Toddlers and preschoolers have it the hardest, but Halloween may be challenging for kids with special needs for many years longer.  So, what can we do to explain this bizarre American cultural institution in a way that shows them that it can, in fact, be fun?

The answers for me, as usual, are picture books, activity routines, and social narratives.

Select a Picture Book: 

Begin by selecting a picture book that depicts the steps in the Halloween process that you feel will most closely resemble the Halloween experience your child will have.  Look for clear and uncluttered pictures.  If you can find a book that includes one of your child’s favorite characters, even better!  Re-write the book to meet you and your child’s needs.  For a “how to,”  see: http://scc-slp.com/using-a-picture-book-to-teach-core-vocabulary-concepts-and-routines/

In the curriculum portion of Facilitating Early Social Communication: From Theory to Practice (by Pamela Rollins, MS, EdD, CCC-SLP), my co-authors and I provide an example story book and book board designed to facilitate the understanding of Halloween rituals for preschool aged children with high functioning ASD.  For our purposes, we selected Maisy’s Trick or Treat by Lucy Cousins.  To see how we rewrote the book, and for the example book board (visual support designed to facilitate the child’s individual participation), check this out: Halloween book and bookboard!  You’ll see that we utilized many visual symbols in drafting our materials.  Thank you to LessonPix for your graciousness!

Build an Activity Routine:

Based upon the steps depicted in the book and/or based upon the activities you will be doing on your particular Halloween night, build a schedule for your child to help him/her develop expectations.  For more on “how to,” see: http://scc-slp.com/using-picture-schedules-and-functional-activity-routines/

For our book (and within our classroom, The Early CLASS at the UTD-Callier Center), we drafted a small group activity routine designed to allow our children to practice the trick-or-treating routine.  For more on how we did it within the classroom setting, see Halloween sm grp activity.  In our routine, we focused on teaching the simple steps of:

stand in line

walk with friends

walk to door

knock on door


say, “trick or treat”

a friend puts the treat in the bag

say “thank you”


We gave each child a visual support handout that looked like this: Trick or Treating visual support

Then, within structured and facilitated play, we practiced this again and again.  While, as I said, this routine was initially developed for use in a small group setting, there’s no reason at all that you could not use it for your individual child!  These are the steps of trick-or-treating in their most simplistic form.  I welcome you to print this handout and use it with your child for practice at home.  Many of the parents of children in our preschool class also brought this support when they took their child trick-or-treating on Halloween night.  The following day we were blessed by many parents with teary eyes telling tales of their child’s first successful Halloween night!

Write your own Social Narrative:

Use of social narratives is an evidence-based practice that has been shown to be successful in helping children with ASD of all verbal ability levels to understand complex social situations and, therefore, promote success!  This strategy was initially designed to combat a target behavior and teach the child a more socially appropriate way to encounter the target social situation.   For more info on social narratives, check out this post.

I highly recommend utilizing social narratives with your child to teach your child ways to handle a specific issue that you foresee being a problem for them on Halloween night.  If, for instance, your child can only eat candy that contains no nuts, gluten, or dairy, it is highly likely that there will be at least one house that has no “sugar only” alternatives for your child.  Obviously, this could be a problem for him or her.  You might write a social narrative that goes something like this (and, please forgive me, because this narrative is probably technically imperfect but still might get the job done.)

Sometimes I trick-or-treat on Halloween.

At some houses, the family offers me lots of candy that I can eat.

This makes me happy.

Sometimes, the family does NOT have any candy that I can eat.

This is ok.

I might say, “no thank you”

I might also choose to take the candy they family offers, and give it to my mom or dad.

If I cannot eat one candy, I can find different candy I can eat later.

I will try to wait.

If I feel angry, I can take a deep breath.  I can count to ten.  

I can wait for different candy.

This is ok.


As always, my lovies, remember that practice makes “perfect.”   Or, if not perfect, repetition absolutely is the breeding ground of success.

Festive Snoozleplatz!……I mean, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!

***Reference: Chapter 5 written by Michelle McFarlin, Pam Rollins, Carol Trautman, and Emily Kerr, in Facilitating Social Communication: From Theory to Practice  (AAPC Publishing), with special thanks to my co-authors. 

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