If you knew my neighbors in the white house, you could ask them about the Halloween when a kid dressed as a construction barrel waltzed through the front door, refused a handful of Tootsie Rolls, and demanded to know where the bathroom was while pulling down his pants.
If you knew the lady three houses down, you could ask her about the boy who refused all the candy she had to offer because he didn’t like her selection, but he did like her chandeliers with the energy-efficient CFL bulbs.
If you knew the family at the end of the block, you could ask them about the child who was more interested in turning on the foyer lights than getting a full size KIT KATTM or TwixTM bar.
Two years ago my son (the construction barrel) was the only kid in our subdivision who wasn’t interested in filling his orange plastic pumpkin with candy. His Halloween agenda had nothing to do with sugar and everything to do with the quirkiness that can accompany autism.
For my son, October 31 is one of the best days of the year because he thinks it’s his ticket into all the houses in the neighborhood. In his mind it makes sense that when someone opens the front door, it’s an invitation inside and he’s happy to accept it.
Opening the door to him isn’t a quick “here’s your candy,” “love your costume,” or “have fun trick-or-treating.” It’s an education on understanding those who are different.
Some of the neighbors were good sports but others were confused and didn’t know how to respond. I can’t blame them but I can educate them and anyone else who opens a door on Halloween. That advice is simply:
- Be understanding
- Be patient
- Be aware
Not every child who comes knocking fits the mold of a costume-clad, candy-seeking kid who’s spent the last 364 days salivating over this one night.
Halloween can range from confusing to uncomfortable or worse for some kids — not only those with autism but children who are shy, allergic, diabetic or any other reason that makes trick-or-treating a challenging experience.
For the children with dietary restrictions, perhaps having a few nut-free or gluten-free choices, as well as non-candy options would make all kids feel included. For a child with autism, or someone who’s simply shy, approaching a stranger’s house for candy is awkward and uncomfortable; it’s OK if a child doesn’t say “trick-or-treat” or even “thank you”.
I know many parents who practice Halloween ahead of time to make it easier when October 31 rolls around. They practice their “trick-or-treats” and “thank yous”, and get their child used to wearing a costume and accustomed to walking around the neighborhood. They may even use what’s called a social story to show appropriate social interactions as a way to prepare.
When we first started trick-or-treating, my son hated everything about the whole experience. He hated being outside in the dark. Some of the decorations were too scary. His costumes were sometimes uncomfortable and he had no interest in candy.
Someone once asked me why we bothered to take him out if he hated it so much. It was a good question but for us, staying home wasn’t an option. For my son, like many children with or without autism, the more we expose him to things the more he becomes used to them and can even enjoy or at least tolerate a previously dreaded experience.
After a few years of trick-or-treating my son now looks forward to Halloween as much as his siblings do. Most of his enthusiasm is over the prospect of getting inside the neighbors’ houses but that’s fine with me.
– Jen Lovy, Beaumont Parenting Program Volunteer