SJU’s Kinney Center Offers Inclusive Halloween for Children on the Autism Spectrum
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
by Katie Smith '15
For most children, Halloween ushers in an exciting time of year that features costumes, candy and spooky events. Yet, for many people on the autism spectrum, interacting with strangers and overwhelming stimuli, such as blinking lights and scary sounds, can be challenging. To best prepare its clients, SJU’s Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support will host its fourth annual Fall Fest on Friday, Oct. 20, full of costumes, snacks and sensory-friendly activities run by Kinney SCHOLARS.
“The Kinney Center is committed to creating programming for families that allows them to engage in holiday traditions that their typical peers experience,” says Ryan Hammond ’13 (MBA), executive director of the Kinney Center. “Our annual Fall Fest event is designed to be sensory friendly and welcoming to our families.”
The Kinney staff structure Fall Fest’s events to accommodate clients’ specific needs, offering snacks that adhere to individual dietary restrictions. In addition, a face painter will be available to create Halloween characters, because some individuals on the spectrum find it difficult to wear masks. The fun will also include dancing, games, temporary tattoos and a photo booth. Kinney staff and SCHOLARS will be on-hand to guide families through the event and to facilitate the activities.
Hammond explains that Fall Fest’s supportive, flexible environment “is often the only Halloween celebration Kinney families have. It replaces trick-or-treating, while still offering costumes, candy and a lot of fun.”
Fall Fest culminates a month of Halloween preparation. Programming for social skills classes in October has been adjusted to specifically prepare clients for trick-or-treating. Classes feature story-based intervention tools and visuals that guide clients through the process and what to expect. Children, then, practiced their Halloween skills by visiting Kinney Center staff offices and collecting treats.
For parents and community members that want to include children on the spectrum this Halloween, Kinney staff encourage flexibility and patience. It would also be helpful to limit spooky lights, sound machines and yelling, “Trick-or-treat!”
“The social aspect of Halloween can be especially challenging for individuals with autism,” says Alexa Musumeci ’17 (M.S.), assistant director of program support. “Allow them to take their time trick-or-treating and recognize that the manner in which they participate may differ from the norm. That way, everyone will feel confident on Oct. 31.”
Fall Fest will take place on Friday, Oct. 20, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the O’Pake Recreation Center’s multi-purpose room, and is free to attend. RSVP is required, and parents must accompany their children. The event is open to the public.