Helpful Halloween Tips for Children with Special Needs

 Halloween Tips Image

Helpful Halloween Tips for Children with Special Needs

 

Prepare Early.

Preparing early for the holiday can make or break the event. Gather books, create social stories, look at pictures, and even practice a trial run to prepare for the experience. Books that explain what the holiday is about are helpful, and social stories can help provide a child with expectations for their own experience. Preparing early will also provide time to practice and gain confidence with different social exchanges that can be expected during trick-or-treating. Once everyone is feeling very confident, try a trial run of the day by getting dressed up and visiting the neighbors (with their cooperation, of course).

 

Carving Alternatives.

Carving pumpkins can provide an amazing sensory experience with the different squishy and slimy textures on the inside, however there are other fun options that provide for a safe, knife-free pumpkin experience. Instead of traditional pumpkin carving, try painting and decorating pumpkins instead! This fun alternative allows for a full range of creativity, and keeps little hands away from sharp tools. Plus, painting a pumpkin may be an easier task for a child with fine motor challenges. Check out these crafty designs from CraftBerryBush.com, InLieuofPreschool.com, PlaySational.com, and TheHappierHomemaker.com. (Links to their websites can be found at the bottom of the article.)

 Pumpkins

Create an Emergency Kit.

Be prepared, and create a mini-emergency kit that can fit in a child’s trick-or-treat basket. In a quart-sized Zip-lock bag, gather a flashlight, identification card, whistle, small snack, calming object, and a small map of the neighborhood. This small kit can be hidden in a candy bag, and will come in handy in case of an emergency.

 

Designate a Walking Buddy.

Make sure to find a walking buddy! Finding a trick-or-treating veteran who is familiar with the neighborhood or who has experience trick-or-treating to partner with is another great option for any kid who is having hesitations about the holiday. Having a friend to walk with can provide an extra boost of confidence without feeling like a parent is hovering too much!

 

Do a Trial Run.

Practicing a run-through can also catch any last minute costume alterations that need to be made. Is the costume comfortable? Is it functional? Does the child feel confident wearing the costume? Remember, wearing the costume at home, and wearing the costume out in public can be two entirely different experiences. It’s more important for the child to enjoy the experience, than to struggle through the day with the perfect costume. Having a back-up costume that is simple and easy to wear is also a great idea. There are many great costume ideas that can be created using everyday clothes, which may be more comfortable for the child should he/she need a last minute change. Check out a few of these costume ideas at RealSimple.com:

Halloween Pic 1

Use Reflectors.
Depending on where trick-or-treating takes place, reflectors may be an option. If the area is dark, and eloping is a possibly, reflectors can help spot a child that has strayed off the path. Reflectors can be easily sewn into costumes, and can even add to the design! (Maybe they are extra lights added to a cool robot costume!) Glow sticks are also a great alternative that will look cool with any costume, however they shouldn’t be used if there’s a possibility the child may put them in their mouth due to high toxicity.

 

Discuss Candy Management.
For children with diet restrictions, trick-or-treating can be an obstacle. Frankly, for any parent trick-or-treating can be stressful, as children are encouraged to binge-eat mounds of sugary candy. Prepare ahead of time for how the candy will be used. Eating it all in one sitting or whenever a child wants does not have to be an option. Use an old fish bowl or an old canning jar as a reward jar to keep the candy in. Discuss with the child before hand when and how the candy can be earned throughout the week (i.e. Three pieces after homework is completed, two pieces after each chore completed, or two pieces after finishing all of dinner, etc.).   This alternative option still allows for the child to keep all their candy, but prevents them from consuming it all at once. Another great option is to donate the Halloween treats. Many different organizations offer buy back programs where children can bring in their candy as a donation, and receive money in return. There are several great causes available that offer buy back programs: go to www.halloweencandybuyback.com to find a buyback near you, or check out SanDiegoFamily.com for more way to give back Halloween candy: https://www.sandiegofamily.com/things-to-do/seasonal-happenings/1481-12-ways-to-give-back-halloween-candy

 

Create a Back-up Plan.

Create a back-up plan if trick-or-treating does not go as planned. Handing out candy at the house or attending a small Halloween party are both great alternatives if trick-or-treating ends early. Handing out candy at the door is a great way to still participate in the festivities while getting social interaction as well.

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Pumpkin pictures provided by:

Alien: http://www.playsational.com/painted-pumpkin-ideas/

Minion: http://www.craftberrybush.com/2012/10/painted-pumpkinsminions.html

Multi-colored: http://www.inlieuofpreschool.com/a-fun-and-easy-way-to-paint-pumpkins/

Monsters Inc.: http://www.thehappierhomemaker.com/2013/10/monsters-university-crafts-recipe.html

 

 

 

nessa

Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist

vanessalemminger.wordpress.com

 

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This blog (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and education only, even when based on a hypothetical. They should not be relied upon for ultimate decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health specialist, or even a physician, who could best evaluate and advice based on a careful, considered evaluation of all pertinent facts. Likewise, it is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) blog.

 

 

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How to Make the Most of a Social Outing

How to Make the Most of a Social Outing

A child’s learning does not just stop at school or the therapy session.  Providing opportunities for your child to learn and practice their social skills is a great strategy for continued learning.  Setting up a play-date or social outing for your child is a great start, but there is more you can do to help facilitate appropriate social interaction and social skills while allowing the natural peer interaction to take place.

Children age 2-6

For parents with younger children, it is important to take time and observe the children’s play.  Children at this age can have unique styles of play, and do not always use logical play.  Instead of immediately joining the children in play, spend time observing first.  Watch how the rules of the play are established, and what the object or goal of the play is.  Study how they transition between play, and what themes they frequent (Do they always play some version of house, or do they lean more towards adventures?) Once you’ve taken some time to understand their style of play, join in, but let the kids take the lead.  Asking questions is a great way to engage more conversation in play while still leaving the control to the kids.  As an example:

Three kids are pretending to cook in the sand box, and you join.  Questions you can ask: “Can I play?” “Who can I pretend to be?” “What are you making?” “What should I make?” “Who is going to eat the food?” “Where should we take the food?” What do we cook next?”

Another great technique to naturally model appropriate social play is to think out loud.  Narrate everything you are doing while playing.

“Hmm… I want to dig a tunnel, but I need the blue shovel and Jared has the blue shovel.  Maybe I could ask him to take a turn with it.  Jared, can I take a turn with the blue shovel?”

“Oh no! I want to play on the swings, but everyone is playing in the sand.  I really wish I had someone to swing with.  Maybe I could ask someone to come play with me! Caleb, do you want to play on the swings with me?”

Remember, when working with kids, less is more.  The goal is to create natural social interaction, and it’s important not to over-pathologize your child’s behavior.  Children do not always say “thank you” after every single toy exchange, and do not compliment their peers on everything they do.  It is also typical for children at this age to play alone or have moments of parallel play (children playing adjacent to each other).  Don’t feel like you need to be maintaining constant dialog.  When the environment is relaxed a child will feel more comfortable going beyond their typical boundaries.

 Children age 7-12

Parents with middle-aged children should focus on building self-esteem and competency during social outings.  This is the age where children develop of sense of self, which makes modeling appropriate social behavior important. A great way to do this is to be overly socially appropriate yourself.  For most, social skills come naturally so we do not even realize the different social behaviors we are exhibiting.  As a parent modeling appropriate social behavior, the goal is to expand these interactions and amplify them.  To provide an example:

Two individuals, John and Gary are at a bowling alley.  John sees Gary pick up his ball and start walking towards the lane.  This triggers John to think, “Oh, it must be Gary’s turn.”  John then glances up at the screen to confirm his thought that it was, in fact, Gary’s turn.  After Gary sends his last ball down the lane, he casually tosses a hand up, which John meets with his own.  Without checking the screen, John walks up to the lane for his turn.

A child with ASD may not see all these subtle social interactions that take place, and deciphering when it is okay to approach the lane, who’s turn it is, or what to say to a friend may not be so obvious.  This short interaction can be amplified and expanded by being curious, asking questions, and making observations.  For example, to prompt a child to look at whose turn it is or stay focused on a game, a parent could ask the child, “Whose turn is it? Do you know whose turn it is, Molly?” A child at this age will be more receptive to the former approach versus, “Molly, it is your turn.  Make sure to pay attention to the game.”  Using observational statements also helps narrate some of these interactional patterns.  A parent could say, “Wow, Molly! Sarah hit 2 pins on her first try, and 6 pins on her second try.  She did a great job. I’m going to give her a high-five!”  Expanding your language beyond “Good job!”, “Great work!”, and “Nice try!” is also helpful.  Try to compliment and appreciate a child’s specific behavior and achievements.  Some example of this phrasing include:

“Andrew, you put your lunch box away by yourself!”

“When you put toys away, that helps Ms. Smith.  She appreciates your help!”

“Carissa, thank you for giving Ella an extra turn.  That was showing great sportsman ship!”

Children at this age also like to have a sense of control and independence.  It’s important for all parents to establish boundaries, but allowing your child to choose some of the rules and boundaries for play will give them a sense of control and create a less restriction environment.   When feeling in control and relaxed, a child will feel more comfortable opening up and exercising their social skills.  Giving children some control of their environment and boundaries will also lead to less resistance or less focus on the “rules”, which will allow the child to be more productive during their social play.  Language and approach makes all the difference when talking to children.  For example, which of the following phrases sounds [approachable?]:

“Well, we could play [game X] or we could also play [game Y].  What do you both want to do?”

“Well, that is not an option.  You can pick [A] or [B].  Which one?”

The words “could”, “also”, and “want” provide a softer approach that appears to be giving all the choice to the child, when in fact you as the parent set the parameters.

Teens 13-18

Working on appropriate social skills with teens during play-dates or outings can be tricky.  First off, it is probably best if you refrain from using the word “play-date” with your teen.  Instead, use “hanging out”.  All teens have an increased self-awareness and are very sensitive to being embarrassed.  Working with your teen is all about being natural and playing it cool.  No teen is going to want their mom or dad lurching around them while their hanging out with their friends, and especially not if they are going to point out things they are doing wrong.  The first key to working with your teen in social situations is to blend in.   As much as you despise that video game with exploding zombie heads, act like you love it! Maybe they are playing a game that makes absolutely no sense at all to you: act excited to learn how to play! Every teen has liked something absolutely silly at that age, but if you are not receptive to their interests, they are not going to be receptive to yours (working on the social skills).  Try your best at refraining from saying as many “Eww!”s or “What?!”s as possible (if you are really brave, try using some “Cool!”s and “Awesome!”s), and instead ask questions about the game or activity they’re playing.  You can ask what the rules are, how to play, what happens if someone does X or does Y, and the object of the game.  Remember to ask in an excited voice and not with a concerned tone. This will not only clue you in on the parameters of their play, but also show that you are interested in their world.  Once you have established this common ground, you can start modeling appropriate social interactions.

When modeling social skills with your teen, it’s important not to draw attention to him/her or single them/their behavior out.  You can still provide correct social responses without having to point out the error.

As an example: Your son/daughter walks in the kitchen, with his friend following behind.  Your son/daughter grabs a soda from the fridge, shuts the door, and starts to leave without offering his friend one. Don’t: “Benny, you need to ask your friend if he wants a soda too. That was rude.” DO: “Chris, would you like a soda as well? If Johnny is thirsty, I’m sure you are too!”

The correct response here allows you to demonstrate to your teen that if he is thirsty, others may feel the same as well.  It provides an example on how to be polite, without making the child feel like he is being scolded in front of his friend.  You can also redirect the focus from your teen by focusing instead on the emotion present.  As an example:

You and your teen are at the beach with a friend and his/her teen.  Your teen skips up to you, unknowingly knocking over their friends sand creation in the process.  DO: “Chris (the friend), you look upset because your castle got knocked over.  You were working hard on that, and I can tell you are upset. Maybe we can help you rebuild it!”

In this example, the emotional context is still being addressed, an appropriate action is still being offered, but there is no blame or focus on someone’s mishap.  Using “we” when offering to help rebuild the castle also allows for another opportunity to work as a team together, and shifts the focus from a blame (“you need to fix his castle”) to working together on the solution.

Lastly, parents can practice their social skills at home.  Practicing with partners or relatives can be very effective modeling.  They are many instances when adults use very subtle cues to express what they are feeling, that may be missed by a teen with ASD.  Compare these examples:

Example 1:

Mom: “Dan, we are almost out of milk, eggs, and we don’t have anything for lunches this week.” Dad/Dan shrugs his shoulders.  Mom: “Well, Dan, I got the groceries last time, and the time before that”.  Mom then stares at Dan/Dad with her hands on her hip and a scornful look on her face.  Dad/Dan is silent for a moment.  Dad/Dan: “I’ll go tonight …” with a huff.   

Example 2:

Mom: “Dan, I’m feeling frustrated that I have to get groceries every time, and I think it would be fair if we took turns and shared the responsibility.” Dan/Dad: “I’m sorry that you’re frustrated and I apologize for not helping out more.  We should be taking turns and sharing the responsibility.  I will go get groceries tonight since you got them the last few times.”

Example 1 uses a lot of emotional cues, body signals, and gestures that may not picked up, where as Example 2 provides a narrative that better describes what each partner is feeling and what the appropriate social rules are.  Of course this change in language is hard to do all the time, and that is not expected.  But recognizing the more subtle emotional language used, and taking time to expand it to provide more clarification can provide great modeling examples for your teen when at home or with family.

Final Note:

On a final note, if you need more help knowing what to do, reach out to your child’s therapist, or behavioral interventionist.  What techniques do they use? What patterns have they seen? What are they currently working on in regards to social skills.  You can even ask to shadow a session.  Working on the same goals and using the same approach will help create consistency, which helps both your child and the therapist or interventionist working with them!

Vanessa (16)

    Vanessa Lemminger M.A. LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist


    


© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.