Social Skills Blog- Trick or Treat Edition

Leaves are changing, temperatures are dropping, and bonfires are burning. Fall is in full swing and with that, so are all of the fantastic fall activities! Whether you are going to apple orchards, finding your way through corn mazes, or picking the perfect pumpkin out at the pumpkin patch, the season change has approached us, and thus so have the fall holidays! Halloween is right around the corner along with Halloweencomes classroom parties, costume parades, and of course, trick or treating! These various social engagements are the hub for millions of social interactions and opportunities to utilize social skills. The purpose of this blog is to talk about various social skills that children with autism can utilize that are specific to Halloween associated activities.

Classroom Parties

  • Though this is still within the students ‘everyday environment’, there are different contingencies at play during ‘party days’, and therefore opportunities for different social skills that may not be used frequently.
    • An example of one of these skills is ‘turn taking’. Think of all of the fun games that are played during classroom parties, students are very excited to participate in these activities and may very easily forget about waiting their turn.
    • Turn taking is an important skill because it can prevent many undesired social interactions. Specifically, if a student fails to wait their turn, other students will likely get angry or upset, thus potentially creating conflicts for everyone involved.
  • In order to help and teach the student to appropriately engage in turn taking, I will break the skill into simple discrete steps.
  1. Face the person (or people) you are playing the game with.
  2. Make eye contact with other game players.
  3. Decide the order of the players or who will go first.
    • When teaching this step to a student with autism, I usually explicitly point out that we cannot just grab the game materials and start playing (as I have seen that is usually an issue).
  4. Follow the established order and waiting for your turn (not playing when it’s someone else’s’ turn).
  5. Play and participate in the game and continuation of following the correct order.
    • Again, as a reminder when teaching this skill offer corrective feedback for incorrect demonstration of the step and praise for correct skill demonstration.

Costume Parades

  • The next social engagementthat will be discussed are costume parades! One of the best parts about Halloween is dressing up in a fun costume and being allowed to wear it outside of the house.
  • The skill that popped into my head when thinking about this particular activity was ‘receiving compliments’. Often times one of the most common things heard on Halloween night include ‘wow what a scary costume’, ‘you are such a pretty princess’, ‘what a cute little cat!’.
  • Sometimes these compliments do not appear in the typical presentation (think about it- what day other than Halloween is it considered a compliment when someone tells you ‘wow look how scary you are’).
  • You may need to sit down with your child or student and go over some of these different compliments prior to him or her dressing up. This will also provide an opportunity for your child to practice responding appropriately.
  • The discrete steps for this skill are very simple.
  1. The first two steps include facing the person and making eye contact.
  2. After the compliment is provided, that is then when you would teach your child to respond with ‘thank you’.
  3. If you are feeling extra ambitious, you can go the extra step and teach your student or child to give his or her own compliment (something as easy as ‘I like your costume too’).

Trick or Treating

The last social engagement activity we will talk about in this post is (drum roll please…) TRICK OR TREATING! I purposefully saved the best activity for last, partly because trick or treating is the most fun, but also because there is a_lot_ that goes along with this section.

  • First, this whole business of trick or treating involves a ton of different social skills (including turn taking and receiving compliments!). Once you have accomplished getting up to someone’s door, there are a lot of skills involved,from initiating conversation to responding to questions. I will go through each of these skills as well as a general recommendation at the end.

Initiating conversations

  • Beginning with initiating conversation, it is actually easier on Halloween, as they are provided with a general conversation starter (i.e. Trick or Treat!).
  • Just provide the child with the reminder to wait until the door is opened, then face the person, make eye contact, and say ‘trick or treat’.
  • The next part of this interaction involves responding to questions (i.e. what are you dressed up as?).
  • Explain to your child that they should listen (by maintaining eye contact and nodding head) to what the person at the door asks and respond to their question. The rationale for doing this is to be nice and that it will make the person at the door feel happy.
  • An important skill step to remember throughout this processis to tell the child to WAIT for the person’s response before reaching their hand into the candy bowl. Once the bowlis presented in front of the child, then is the appropriate time to reach for a piece of candy.
  • Lastly, just provide that friendly reminder for your child to thank the person that provided them with a treat.

If you are concerned about the entire process of trick or treating or your child/student’s reaction to this activity, there are some things you can do to help the process go smoother. One of these things is a ‘mock trick or treat’. This involves setting up the trick or treating process at your house to provide some exposure of the process to your child/student.

  • Have your child/student practice this process by actually knocking on the front door and going through each of the steps of trick or treating.
  • Just like any other social skill training procedure, start by modeling an accurate trick or treating interaction.
  • Next, have your child or student practice trick or treating.
  • Provide them with corrective feedback for inaccurate skill demonstration and praise for correct skill demonstration.
  • If you are close with or have a good relationship with your neighbors, ask if your child or student can practice trick or treating at their house. This can help promote generalization for the trick or treating social skill across both people and settings. It will also provide your child or student with additional practice demonstrating the skill.

Last but not least, sit down and go over safety rules. It is especially important to go over the ‘don’t’ talk to stranger’s rule’. This is important because on this night, they are allowed to talk to neighbors and people they may not know when they are trick or treating, but make it clear that the child or student are only allowed to do that under the supervision of a parent. Re-iterate the rule of not getting into the car with strangers and to also be under the supervision of a trusted adult the entire evening.

That wraps up this Halloween related social skills blog, I hope that you all enjoy your Halloween night and have a blast dressing up and trick or treating with your families. Please share your Halloween photos and experiences! Happy Halloween everyone!

Kate Helbig

Third year doctoral student in the School Psychology Program at The University of Southern Mississippi

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