Fall is a time of transitions. Days get shorter and routines have to be adjusted accordingly; and pumpkins and Halloween costumes appear in stores. It’s my favorite season, but it can easily overwhelm my children with special needs. Luckily, the last eight years of parenting have taught me a few tricks for making this season delightful for everyone in my family. Overall, I’ve found that planning and open communication with my children makes the transition as smooth as possible.

Get Outside
Some of my favorite childhood memories involve being outside on a crisp fall days, playing soccer with my classmates, building leaf piles and exploring the outdoors. Although my children with special needs don’t participate in soccer, we are checking out activities like Special Olympics, and we spend as much time as possible outside every day. This is sometimes as simple as an evening walk through our neighborhood or as adventurous as a trip to the zoo or a short hike. Kids benefit greatly just from being outside and enjoying nature.

Find a list of recreational activities for San Diego families with special needs in Flourishing Families.

For Goodness Sake, Eat Some Pie
Pie is one the best parts of fall—especially apple pie while apples are in season. We love to go apple picking (i.e. my husband and I pick apples while our kids eat them off the tree), and then we stop for pie at a local shop by the orchard. Even if you don’t pick apples, baking pie or making homemade applesauce with apples from a local farmers market will still evoke the feeling of fall and create a fun family tradition.

Find alternative apple recipes in San Diego Family Magazine’s Apple Recipe Round-Up.

Don’t Be Scared of Halloween
Loud noises, weird costumes, scary masks, lots of sugar, doorbells ringing past bedtime—these are all aspects of Halloween that make me start to panic when I think about my kids who get anxious with small changes and who like to stick to routine. I used to skip Halloween all together, but the way I’ve overcome my worries about Halloween is by making it fit my family (not the other way around). We start decorating early, so my kids have time to adjust to the decorations (and by early, I mean my youngest was cutting out bats in February). We also skip trick-or-treating and opt for a low-key Halloween party at home. That way, our kids can still enjoy some parts of the holiday without getting overwhelmed by all the sensory challenges it poses.

If your kids have limitations that prevent them from carving pumpkins, try No-Carve Pumpkin Decorating.

Make Thanksgiving Your Own
Like Halloween, Thanksgiving is a holiday that can be tough for kids with special needs. Awkward family gatherings, unspoken social expectations, crowded homes, unfamiliar food and many other pitfalls can make what should be a warm family holiday super stressful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Make Thanksgiving your own—skip the large gathering and have a small one, eat pizza (or whatever foods your kids enjoy) and stick to the spirit of the season, not the letter of mainstream tradition.

Take time to express gratitude as a family. Get ideas by reading 24 Ways to Give Thanks.

From my family to yours, I wish you a peaceful, fun, fabulous fall!

Jamie Pacton blogs for a national parenting magazine and writes young adult and middle grade fiction.