Written by Charissa Devlin, RBT
IT’S FALL Y’ALL!! This means Halloween is fast approaching!
Did you know that applied behavior analysis (ABA) principles were at the heart of creating the holiday that we all know and love today? In 1938, in Des Moines, Iowa, police were called a record 550 times for reports of vandalism and various pranks on what was then called “Beggars’ Night.” The parks director at that time, Katherine Krieg, decided enough was enough and started a campaign to replace Beggars’ Night delinquency with Halloween fun. She rallied the community to reward the children with treats if they performed a trick. Within three years the police reported only 22 calls for vandalism! Katherine implemented an effective behavior change procedure that behavior professionals call a “DRA” or Differential Reinforcement of an Alternate Behavior. We can thank her for all the fun we enjoy today! However, Halloween fun can also be accompanied by anxiety and worry for parents who have a child with special needs. But don’t fret! With a little preparation and planning, you can make this Halloween a holiday that everyone will enjoy!
Tips for a successful Halloween:
- Stick to basics like Pajamas, Onesies, and T-Shirts – These everyday items are sensory-friendly and provide options that are quick, affordable, and easily accessible. But don’t forget about those pesky tags – they are so itchy! Removing them helps to create a more enjoyable experience.
- Practice! – Can’t say it enough! Wear costumes as much as possible prior to Halloween!! If it gets dirty, who cares? You trick or treat in the dark anyway, right?! Do some role-playing around the house with the lights dimmed and costumes on.
- Use what you have! – Use something that your child is already familiar with wearing. For example, one year when my son was fixated on the mailman we put together a costume using his favorite blue shorts, a blue button up shirt, and wrote “MAIL” on a pillowcase to tie it all together.
- Plan a schedule – Create a visual schedule to make clear when candy can be eaten and what the child can do to earn candy.
- Special bag – Does your kid have allergies? Work together with your child to create a special bag filled with treats that they can have to replace the bag of treats that are brought home. Or, check out your local dentist’s office to see if they participate in the cash for candy program, then take that cash and buy your child a special toy from the store.
- Teal Pumpkin Project – This worldwide program created by the Food Allergy Research and Education organization (FARE) involves placing a teal pumpkin outside of your house to indicate there is food allergy-friendly treats waiting! Spread the word and maybe your neighborhood will go teal!
- Above all, be in the moment! As parents, there is always an expectation that the kids will look or act a certain way. If trick or treating as a pirate isn’t in the cards, then take what is working and run with it. Sometimes, the best thing to do is take a breath, enjoy the moment and reassure yourself that it is ok to let go of expectations. Halloween is the perfect time to ensure all children feel special and included! Happy Halloween!
Charissa Devlin, a Lead Behavior Technician, has a B.A. in Speech Sciences and Technology, with an emphasis in Special Education. Charissa has many years of experience working with students with autism, other developmental disabilities, as well as, adults with severe mental illness in both clinical settings and school settings. Charissa is currently pursuing my M.Ed. in Applied Behavior Analysis.
Charissa’s favorite part of working in this field is watching children grow and make strides toward progress every day. Charissa is excited to combine the knowledge of her undergrad studies and her master’s studies in an integrative approach for kids with disabilities.