Original article by Jayne Dixon Weber, updated in 2023 by the NFXF Team

People look forward to the fall, especially Halloween, all year long, but it can offer challenges for individuals with Fragile X syndrome. While Halloween is all about the candy, there are many fall activities that you can choose from throughout the season.  

Here are some activities, tips, and advice to get you through the fall with the least amount of stress for everyone. The most important point is to find what works for your family, maybe it will lead to a new tradition! 

Going to the Pumpkin Patch

In general, keeping in mind the size and number of activities at the location can help you choose where to go. If you are considering a pumpkin patch, review their website, social media page, or call in advance to ask about the least busy hours and if they provide any accommodations.  

Before you go, you could make a visual schedule, social story, or other visual support that may help your loved one know what to expect. Find a pumpkin patch online and print out pictures to show your loved one where you will be going and what you are planning to buy. Have a back-up plan in case the weather changes, which might be bringing gear for any weather. Allow for plenty of time to look around the pumpkin patch and move at your loved one’s pace. You may decide to buy your pumpkin at the local grocery store — that’s OK too! 

Decorating Your House — Inside and Out

Set expectations for how much you are willing and able to do. You can even let your loved one take the lead! You can look online together for ideas on decorations you can make yourself. Always allow plenty of time so you’re not rushed.  

Model inclusive decorations! Be sure your decorations are not too scary or create physical barriers for visitors.  

Choosing and Trying on Costumes

Decide ahead of time if you are going to make or buy the costume. So many costumes can be pulled together with things you already have at home. Keep in mind that it might be cold, raining, or even snowing during actual trick-or-treating, which means your loved one might have to wear a coat with their costume. 

Once you’ve decided what you need, think about where you’ll go shopping and how much you’ll spend. 

It’s not uncommon for an individual to pick a costume that has a mask, but later not wear the mask when they go out trick-or-treating. Your loved one may also change their mind at the last minute and wear an old or different costume.  

Sensory-friendly costume ideas include a Halloween-themed outfit, pajamas, or a cozy onesie costume. Maybe your loved one won’t wear a costume at all. That’s okay too!  

Consider using a colored bucket for trick-or-treating. Teal buckets signal the trick-or-treater has food allergies and blue buckets signal the trick-or-treater has autism and/or is non-verbal. You can learn more about these initiatives here: https://nationalautismassociation.org/blue-buckets-for-halloween/ 

Choosing Candy (or Other Items) to Give Out

Decide ahead of time how many bags of candy or other items you’ll hand out. Letting each of your loved ones pick out one bag of candy or item can be a fun activity! Some families choose to give out non-food items. 

Carving the Pumpkin

Decide whether you will carve multiple pumpkins or if you will work on a single pumpkin. If you are carving one pumpkin, how will you decide on the carving? It could be a group vote, you can make the decision beforehand, or you can let your loved one pick the design. You could also look online for ideas- just make sure it’s doable!  

Does your loved one want to help clean the pumpkin out? Playing with the pumpkin strands and seeds can make for a great sensory activity. You can even use disposable gloves to minimize the mess. 

Draw the design on a piece of paper before carving. If doing a face, include your loved one by asking: What should the eyes look like? The nose? The mouth? Maybe they can help poke the pieces of the pumpkin out after they are carved. Or, you can download this stencil of the X logo, make your own, or go freehand. Be imaginative and creative.

Allow plenty of time for the whole process, including cleanup. 

A great alternative to carving a pumpkin is to use markers or paint to decorate the pumpkin. Get creative.  

Going Trick-or-Treating

Plan which neighbors or area to visit. You can even create a visual story of the planned activities to show your loved one. Your loved one may want to go to all the people in your area or they may want to quit after a few houses.  

Talk about and model what your loved one will be expected to do when they go to the door. Knock on the door or ring the doorbell. Then practice what to say when they go to the door. Ask a couple of your neighbors if your loved one can practice going up to their house. If your loved one is non-verbal or also has autism, consider handing out a trick-or-treat card or Fragile X-specific awareness cards. 

Your loved one may want to dress up and hand out candy instead of going trick-or-treating. You can model handing out one piece of candy to each trick-or-treater and then letting them do it. You could also practice handing out candy earlier in the day. 

Your loved one may just decide to watch television instead. That’s OK too! 

If you do go out: 

  • Set expectations about when you will start and how late you will stay out. 
  • If your loved one won’t knock on the door, it’s OK if you do it for them and then step back. You can also model saying, “Trick or treat!” If someone asks your loved one what they are, give them a few seconds to respond and if they don’t, it’s OK for you to say for them, “I’m a ______.” 
  • You might ask a friend to go with your loved one. That friend can also model what to do and say. 

The Candy!

Offer to trade all or some of the candy for a present.  (Sometimes you can sell it to your dentist or donate it to a local group). Set expectations about how much your loved one can eat at one time or during the day. 

Ideas Instead of Halloween

  • Read Halloween books to or with your loved one. There are books for all ages. 
  • Watch movies. Be sure they are not too scary for your loved one. 
  • Make cookies or other spooky treats. 
  • You might opt to go to a community Halloween event. They’re usually during the day and a little lower in intensity. 

From Parents Like You

We also asked parents to share strategies and ideas for costumes and other Halloween fun. Here’s what they told us: 

Our 5-year-old son won’t tolerate a costume, so he wears his pajamas and goes as “a boy ready for bed.” 

We always went with the soft easy in/easy out costumes. 

Our sons hated masks, so they always went with minimal costumes like cowboy or detective clothes (a trench coat). 

My son never liked costumes on himself or others. When he was young, we made costumes out of boxes, a car, a robot. I think it made him feel more secure. 

When our son was in pre-school, he was Tigger. He put on a costume in a store and would not take it off! I had to rip the ticket off of it and pay for it as he bounced out the door! That lasted a few years. [Editorial note: Tiggers are wonderful things!] 

Our son loved Darth Vader. He would not wear the mask but LOVED the cape and lightsaber. 

I get costumes without a lot of fanfare that doesn’t require masks or makeup or hats. One year he was Superman, one year a pirate, last year he was an army member and this year he will be Ironman, sans mask. 

Our son has been a firefighter — just wearing a firefighter jacket — which has gone well as it just goes over his clothes like a jacket. 

Superman worked well for us. No mask needed, and the cape is fun. 

A costume that our son has tolerated was black sweatpants, black sweatshirt; I bought crinkled brown paper and glued it on the shirt. Then I used black makeup pencil for his nose, and he was the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. 

Years ago, our son’s favorite movie was The Mask. We went to Goodwill and found an outrageous green and yellow jacket, tie, shirt, pants and the big rubber pull-on mask. He wore that all the time, not just for Halloween, for years until he couldn’t squeeze into the clothes anymore. 

My son went as a baseball player: sweatpants, team jersey, cap, and he wore my daughter’s softball cleats. 

My son wore a football uniform, and I thought he’d carry the helmet to put candy in, but he wore that tight helmet on his head for quite a while. 

We do sensory-friendly costumes that are basically like normal clothes. We have done lumberjack (plaid overalls), a doctor (scrubs), train conductor (striped overalls), and this year he’ll be a gorilla (the costume is basically a black velour sweatsuit where the hoodie has a gorilla face on it). He goes trick-or-treating and loves it! 

I always let each child pick out their costume; it seems to help with wearing them. 

My son lays all his costumes out a couple of days before Halloween because that night he changes costumes a few times. He does not go trick-or-treating, but he wears his costumes around our front yard and helps pass out candy. 

We have a movie night at home. 

My kids love Halloween and all the stuff that goes with it — parades, parties, candies, dressing up, masks, etc. In fact, they love it so much it has caused sleep problems and behavioral issues, starting with when the calendar moves to October! All because they are so excited for it. 

We go trick-or-treating with my son’s typical siblings and friends as models, although he was confused about it the first year. 

Both of my boys love Halloween but do not like to wear masks or hats. They enjoy decorating, but they really enjoy kids coming to our house. 

Our son is on a special diet, so he can’t eat candy. Instead of eating it, he trades it in to us at the end of the night for a present! 

Have fun with this. There is not a right or wrong way to do anything. Be creative! 

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Jayne Dixon Weber, director of community services, NFXF

Jayne Dixon Weber
Jayne served as the NFXF director of community education (and other positions over the years) from 2007 to 2023. She has two adult children, a son with Fragile X syndrome and a daughter. Jayne is the author of Transitioning ‘Special’ Children into Elementary School, co-author of Fragile X Fred, and editor of Children with Fragile X Syndrome: A Parents’ Guide. Jayne likes to read, enjoys photography, and goes for a walk every day.