'It's very different': Edmonton kids with autism practise trick-or-treating

For many trick-or-treaters, zooming up and down sidewalks and walkways, knocking on doors and filling up pillowcases is almost automatic.

Some families who have kids with autism can take up to a month to prepare for one night

Colleen Breitkreutz's son, Aidan, dressed like a ninja, has autism. Breitkreutz and her kids participated in the practice trick-or-treat on Oct. 27. (Terri Duncan/Supplied)

For many trick-or-treaters, zooming up and down sidewalks and walkways, knocking on doors and filling up pillowcases is almost automatic.

But for some children with autism, they might need a month to prepare for one night.

Every year, the Children's Autism Services of Edmonton gathers families who have children with autism together to walk through the trick-or-treating process. And in the days leading up to that, parents are making costumes and preparing their children for the evening.

Colleen Breitkreutz has five kids — two adults and three children — who have autism. She's walked her children through many Halloweens and has learned some valuable lessons along the way.

"It takes us a month to prepare," Breitkreutz told CBC's Radio Active. "Showing them their costumes, trying them on, trying makeup on, teaching them what's right and what's wrong and what's acceptable and what's not."

Breitkreutz said going through the motions with her kids helps them develop a routine, which is key to minimizing the chance of something setting the kids off.

"We learn our manners, we learn not to bolt into people's houses because there are neat and cool things behind them," she said.

Another one of her children, Abby, dressed up as a witch for Halloween. Breitkreutz says even certain smells can set those with autism off. (Terri Duncan/Supplied)

For those with autism, any number of things can set them off — from being asked to sing and dance to even certain smells.

"Walking up to some people's houses can be very difficult because it's not what they expected when the door was opened," Breitkreutz said. "It's very different."

Measures are taken to minimize the reactions, but sometimes all the preventative measures still aren't enough. Breitkreutz said she hopes candy distributors can recognize a situation like this and steer clear of it.

"[I hope they] remember that if there is a child screaming in their front lawn that it'll pass and not to stare too hard or point or yell, 'Get lost or I'm calling 911,' " she said.

That has happened to her before, and after the incident she took her children home and cried. But now, things are different.

Breitkreutz says now that she's had plenty of experience with kids with autism and trick-or-treating, she feels more comfortable focusing on making sure her kids are comfortable. (Terri Duncan/Supplied)

"Now that I've had the experience, I know now just to say, 'Thank you,' and just continue on what I'm doing," she said.

The group that gets together each year also learns best practices from each other — while also sharing experiences they've had.

"Talking with other parents really does help," she said.

And while it may seem like a lot of effort for Breitkreutz to ready her kids for Halloween, she said it's worth it.

"I loved Halloween. I loved running around with my friends and I want the same for them," she said. "Just because they have autism doesn't mean they can't do what everybody else does."

Listen to Radio Active with host Portia Clark, weekday afternoons at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @CBCRadioActive.

With files from Emily Rendell-Watson