Guidelines for Celebrating Halloween in 2020

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused; COVID-19 Topics

By Sarah A. Weddle, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LABA

[This column was published in the Randolph Herald on 10/28/20]

For the last several years, May Institute has offered tips for celebrating Halloween. These strategies for promoting a fun and safe Halloween for children with ASD are still useful, but this year we must all modify traditions to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Early in October, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced – to the delight of many families – that Halloween would not be canceled this year. Along with this announcement, he also offered some guidance consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

First, you must determine if you or anyone in your household feels unwell; has tested positive for COVID-19; has been exposed to someone with COVID-19; and/or has traveled out of state (does not include low risk states) in the last 14 days. If any of these are true, your family should stay home, and also not hand out treats. While this is a total bummer, you still have some options! *See below

If you determine that it is safe for your family to participate in Halloween events outside your home, there are several actions you should take to limit your risk:

Masks are necessary when venturing out of the home. Halloween masks as part of costumes are not a substitute for a face mask or cover, and face masks or coverings should be worn under a costume mask. You may purchase Halloween-themed face masks online or decorate your own face masks with fabric paint or markers. 

If you have a child with ASD who has difficulty wearing a mask, one option is to practice mask-wearing before going outside. My colleague Jenna Garvey offers a number of helpful tips to address this challenge. 

*Another option is to participate only in activities that limit your exposure to individuals outside of your household. These can include car rides, staying in your own yard, socially distanced walks, and virtual events. 

Handwashing and Sanitizing
Your family of ghouls, goblins, and pirates will want to observe good hygiene when you leave your home. This includes packing an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. You should keep this in your possession and help your children follow CDC guidelines after coming into contact with frequently touched surfaces and before they eat any candy. 

When you get home, everyone must first make a stop at the sink to wash hands for the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs. Remind everyone in the group to try not to touch their faces or eat candy until they have done this.

Location and Group Size 
One of the most important steps your family can take during Halloween is to attend or host events outside (check limits on group size). During these gatherings, maintain social distancing of at least six feet from others outside your family. If you anticipate that your child will have difficulty with this expectation, you can either practice in a private, outdoor open area before the event or participate in another activity where you have more control. 

Trick or Treating 
One way to limit the spread of virus is to place candy on a tray instead of in a bowl. Make sure that treats are packaged individually and offered in a way that ensures a social distance is maintained.

*Virtual & Family-Only Groups 
If your child enjoys viewing content on a screen, a virtual costume contest, pumpkin-carving activity, or Halloween game may be a nice alternative to venturing out in public. During these activities, you can support your child’s participation by being ready to prompt and praise engagement with the group or activity. Family-only activities like watching a movie, carving pumpkins, decorating your house, and taking car rides or walking to see other homes are a safer way to limit contact as well. 

We will all be celebrating Halloween a little differently this year, but with some careful planning and practicing, you and your family can have fun and be safe!

Sarah A. Weddle, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D is Divisional Director of Clinical Services and Training for May Institute. She can be contacted

May Institute is a national nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral health services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury, and behavioral health needs. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in Randolph, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit