Create New Halloween Traditions During the Pandemic

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

By Jenna Garvey, M.Ed., LABA, BCBA
[This column was published in the West Springfield Republican on 10/22/20.]

Like many other holidays and milestone celebrations, Halloween is bound to look different this year due to COVID-19. Local communities are divided in terms of their approach – some are cancelling trick-or-treating, while others are allowing it with proper precautions in place. To help you keep the holiday fun and safe for your children this year, we offer the following suggestions. 

Keep in mind that Halloween is not just about trick-or-treating. It’s about costumes, candy, the fun we have with friends and neighbors, and the memories we create together. You and your children can have fun by pulling together some of these elements in a way that still feels festive.

Perhaps you can have a scavenger hunt around your home or yard. If your children would benefit from a simpler version of this activity, consider setting it up like an Easter egg hunt and hide treats for your kids to find. 

Seasonal craft-making ideas are plentiful this time of year, and there is no shortage of ideas online. Crafting is not only a fun activity to do together, but results in a finished product that can be shared with others, thus creating a social opportunity. You can craft to decorate your home and windows, send a completed craft to friends or family, or share it electronically by showing it off via Zoom or Facetime. 

If costumes are you child’s favorite part of Halloween, you can make this year special by allowing more than one costume! Perhaps you can make some of these costumes at home as a crafting activity and your child can wear them in the days leading up to the holiday. Or, make Halloween-themed face coverings together that can be worn for regular community outings.

Depending on your circumstances and comfort level with in-person socializing, there may be a way to offer a scaled down version of trick-or-treating where social distancing can be maintained. Do you have a small group of family or friends you’ve been seeing in a socially distant manner? If so, you might invite them to join together for a small TRUNK-or-treat style event, where candy can be given out with gloves or even tossed to the children to make it a game. Or, maybe you can gather for a costumed nature walk/small parade in an outdoor space, so the children have an opportunity to show off their costumes without the risk of exposure to a lot of strangers. 

While these recommendations could work for any family looking for Halloween alternatives, children with autism may be particularly affected by celebrating in a way that is different from what they are used to. In order to support your child with adjusting to the changes, consider preparing him (or her) for how the fun will take place this year. Preview the plan ahead of time, and prepare for the changes by showing pictures of the costumes, crafts, and people he might see. Don’t forget to offer lots of praise and reinforcement when he tolerates the changes, both during discussions leading up to the event as well as on Halloween.

As you decide what will work best for your child this year, remember children will often take cues from their parents in terms of how to respond to a novel situation. Try to keep it positive, and highlight all the fun you can have with these plans, presenting them as new and exciting ways to celebrate. With your help and guidance, this can certainly be a Halloween to remember, and you may even develop new family traditions that can be continued in years to come! 

Jenna Garvey, M.Ed., LABA, BCBA, is Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield. She can be contacted at

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities. For more information, call  800.778.7601 or visit