Halloween has always been tricky, pun intended. Sensory overload is a given, we’ve done it enough times now that I know how to manage it. The most important thing to manage is my expectations. So much of how we grade ourselves as parents rides on the extra fluff that goes along with holidays. Neurotypical kids most of the time love the extras, but neuro-diverse kids, not so much. Everett’s brain works more practically and for Everett it took him awhile to understand and appreciate the fun that Halloween can bring.
I’ve sprinkled some pictures of our Halloween’s past for a walk down memory lane. I’m going to take you through a dissection of each category of Halloween.
Most costumes that you purchase aren’t made with the highest quality of fabrics which can trigger sensory issues.
Extra pieces that are worn in areas that aren’t part of our normal routine, such as gloves, hats, and things around the face or feet. I have purchased many costumes that become an absolute no the moment Everett touched it. And this isn’t always easy for many children. What they are willing to wear for 5 minutes when trying on a costume becomes miserable on the big night.
There is no swaying Everett’s opinion once he makes up his mind. To wear or not to wear is never a question, it’s a loud resounding final judgement.
As parents, we all have our Pinterest worthy dreams of group costumes and expectations of the perfect photo that will be nabbed to capture the perfection but that so rarely comes to fruition.
Spooky Side of Halloween
All of the noise making decorations in the store that go off as you walk by and the commercials in October have Everett on edge and untrusting of places he is usually comfortable. Again, not only kids with autism struggle with this side of Halloween. This October marks three years of major television phobia for Everett that I believe stemmed from scary commercials. He is in pure panic mode when a TV comes on where he doesn’t have full control.
This is Everett’s favorite part of Halloween. He wants to purchase a pumpkin every time we are in a store that has one. And many times, as seen in the picture below his impulses get the best of him. Once we have a pumpkin in possession, he is carving it so if you don’t want a mess you have to help him. Here is some of his handy work from over the years.
Trick or Treating
In our community, most of the trick or treating is done at community trunk or treats. In a rural area there aren’t many neighborhoods that have houses close enough to each other that make it easy to trick or treat. And the ones that do, don’t have sidewalks and curbs. I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama which is filled with neighborhoods that have houses right on top of each other. We were released into the night with our plastic costume of the year and a pillow case with only a warning of don’t eat your candy before it’s checked for tampering. In the late 80s, propaganda campaigns of evil people slipping shards of glass and razor blades into your starbursts was up there with the fear factor of devil worshipers. Huntsville even had a place you could go get your candy put through an X-Ray machine to make sure your over protective mother could breathe a deep sigh of relief that the 20 pounds of candy you would consume in the next few days was safe. The first time I took Everett trick or treating he was about to turn 4. He didn’t understand at all the concept or how everything worked. He couldn’t say trick or treat and every time someone would give him a piece of candy he would sit down right there to open it and eat it. He didn’t understand gathering it to save for later. The dark, the noise, the flashing lights, and just the heightened level of energy was too much for him to handle. It has taken a lot of trial and error. Over the years, we’ve figured out that the best Halloween experience for him is to give out candy. He gets to stay stationary and doesn’t have too many overwhelming environments to contend with. In recent years, he has become much more social and loves seeing all of the different people and costumes. For hours, he will greet everyone by what their costume is “Hey, little bumble bee”, “Happy Halloween, Minnie Mouse!” He is aggressive with the amount of candy he hands to each person coming through and if he thinks he has skipped you my advice is to duck because he will throw it at you.
A couple of tips for autism parents of newly diagnosed kids.
- Manage not only your expectations of the night but your family’s as well. The environment, costume, and experience in the early years is just too much. That can be sad and you may have grief associated with it, but it may not always be that way. Neuro-typical kids have very few years where Halloween is really fun then they our grow it. Kids with autism may struggle at the beginning but once you figure out the best scenario for them, it won’t ever get old.
- Practice the candy exchange process at home so there is some understanding. Don’t expect them or pressure them to say trick or treat each time they walk up to a house or candy opportunity.
- Check out sensory friendly trunk or treats in your area. I’m my experience, they allow you early entrance to help avoid lines and crowds. If you don’t see an option for this at your normal trunk or treat or festival, request to be able to go through 15 mins before it starts so your child has greater chance to enjoy the experience.
- Purchase a blue Pumpkin bucket to give a visual cue to those handing out candy that your child has autism. If they don’t recognize the blue pumpkin, use it as an opportunity to explain what it means so they can be aware for someone else coming through.
If you are giving out candy and come across a family with autism, here are some tips for you.
- Try not to be too loud with excitement. Smiles are great, but over excited, high pitched voices are hard for kids with autism.
- Don’t hesitate talking to them and give praise for doing a great job. But don’t expect a response.
- Don’t expect them to say trick or treat on demand. I can’t tell you how many houses or trunks we’ve been to that won’t give candy out without a “trick or treat”. I understand that the intention is not meant to be exclusive, but it is.
- Understand the blue pumpkin sign or the puzzle piece on a bag is an intentional signal that your next trick or treater is extremely special!!
Everett has been counting down the days until Halloween. We are excited about his and Jack’s costume and we will have a trunk at Iuka’s trunk or treat, so if you are in the area please stop by and keep an eye out for flying candy.