Halloween Doesn’t Have to be Scary for Special Needs Kids
Halloween is a holiday for children. Kids loves nothing more than dressing up in crazy costumes, running from door to door, and collecting candy to shove in their faces when the night is through.
Well, not every kid loves those things. My son Lucas doesn’t. In fact, Halloween is full of some of his least favorite things. Some of these aversions were easy to detect and understand—others, not so much.
His disdain for masks was an easy one to realize. As is the case for many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Lucas hates the idea of anything on or around his face. It’s not just traditional masks either. He stands against haircuts, hats, hoods, or anything of the sort. This cuts down greatly on his potential costumes. He’s never Spiderman or Frankenstein for Halloween. He’s Spiderman or Frankenstein with a cute Lucas face. We accept that, and we’re prepared for it.
His extreme hatred for approaching front doors wasn’t so easy.
Since he’s nonverbal, Lucas couldn’t simply say, “Yeah. I’m not walking up to that house,” the first time it was attempted. Instead, we took him by the hand and started to slowly stroll up the front walk of our neighbor’s home. The closer we got, the more agitated he became. With each step, his whine grew bigger. By the time we made it to the front porch, he had dropped to the ground and begun to wail. My wife and I exchanged confused looks and realized that we had to make some alternations to how we celebrate this holiday.
In hindsight, I guess we should have known. My son loves going out but hates when it’s time to go back home. While his little legs may grow fatigued over time, his love of being pulled in the wagon is legendary. Once placed into his little Rocket Flyer with an iPad in hand, Lucas can roll from coast to coast and back without so much as a peep. If he gets tired, he’ll simply lay down and take a nap—all while gliding down the street.
It was the attempts to get him from the wagon and into a house that was always met with resistance. So, after a few disastrous tries at physically trick-or-treating, we decided to let him stay in the wagon for the duration of the night while his sister, Olivia, collects the candy. If he wants to get out, we’ll let him. However, that hasn’t come up yet. Maybe one day it will. Maybe it won’t. Either way, he’s still a part of our evening.
At first, the idea of leaving him in the wagon the whole time was frustrating. Joined by other families, we’d watch as Olivia and her friends would sprint from doorstep to doorstep, laughing and collecting treats. As they did, Lucas would sit in his wagon, playing on his device, and having a grand time by himself.
Knowing that he loves candy, though, Olivia makes sure to ask every house if she can have extra for her brother. Rather than pocketing the surplus of treats for herself, she’ll come running back to us in between stops and drop it in his bag. We beam with pride and thank her each time as she dashes back to gather more.
It really killed me for a while to see Lucas not being included in Halloween, or so I thought. After all, he’s a kid. Halloween is for kids. He should be having fun on this holiday, right?
Well, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized he does.
My son might not love costumes or door-to-door candy begging, but he loves being outside. He loves his wagon and he loves his family. For one night a year, he gets to be chauffeured throughout the neighborhood, all while plopping mini-Snickers into his mouth. If I could magically make him start talking and asked what activity he would want to do more anything, I know that’s exactly what he would choose.
To be honest, getting pulled in a wagon while shoving candy in my mouth would probably be what I would choose, too.
My son’s unwillingness to participate in Halloween traditions made me sad the first few years, but that sadness wasn’t for him. It was for, what I believed to be, the loss of a holiday. If he didn’t do the traditional trick-or-treating ritual, then he would never get to experience the fun.
The thing is, though, that we don’t determine his fun. He does. His wagon is fun. Going out with his family for a ride in the dark is fun. Eating fresh candy, delivered every two minutes by his sister, is fun. For Lucas, Halloween is fun. Once I realized that, it became fun for me, too.
While it started off as an event that he was dragged to for his sister, our view of trick-or-treating has evolved. I can honestly say now, that even if Olivia didn’t want to go out on Halloween, I would still take Lucas out in his wagon on October 31. We like it. It’s how we celebrate the night. No one else might understand it, but they don’t have to. We do.
Yes. It’s true. Halloween is definitely for children while traditions and social norms are for adults. When we remember to let our kids, on or off the spectrum, celebrate in a way that makes them happy, we all win.
James Guttman has been writing for 15 years and introduced his blog earlier this year. James writes about parenting both of his children (one nonverbal and one nonstop verbal), self-reflection, and all that comes with fatherhood. His mix of humor and honesty aims to normalize the way people view raising a child with special needs and shows that we, as parents, are all basically the same, regardless of the children we’re raising. You can like his page on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.
This article was featured in Issue 67 – Preparing for Adulthood With Autism