Published on: October 22, 2014
October: the time of year when the leaves start turning brilliant shades of yellow, red and gold. When it starts having a bite in the air and we pull out our warm sweaters and think about building roaring fires in the fireplace. It’s also that time of year when witches, ghosts and goblins come out, when buying and getting candy is on the minds of all our kids.
I need to be honest. I despise Halloween. When did my disdain for this “holiday” occur, I’m not sure. Maybe I’m repressing some depression over not having homemade costumes or that my costumes were never the best. Don’t get me wrong, I love the candy – absolutely love getting the candy and eating the candy. Charlie Brown’s Halloween special was always a favorite. I also vaguely remember throwing some Halloween parties when PJ and I were first married. Then came my kids and I do remember those years between infant and 3 when the kids were so super cute in their costumes. Serena was a Hershey kiss as a baby and then a lion at 1. Hayden was a football player at three months and then superman at 1. These are some wonderful memories. So where did my distaste for Halloween come from?
When Hayden, my son, was diagnosed with autism I had no clue how much would change in what my idea and thoughts for our and his future were going to be. Holidays changed. Halloween was different. It was difficult. It’s a super active, loud and noisy evening. Lots of running,talking and darkness. And thus began my disdain for Halloween. More like my fear…
So how do you cope when you have a child who you want so desperately to be a part of the chaos and fun? For me it was hard and I ran away from it. I made my husband handle both kids for about four years. Work took me away and I missed Halloween. It bothered the kids and that made me sad but at the same time I was relieved not to have to worry about how to help Hayden cope with this crazy holiday.
But then I came back and as much as I wanted to ignore Halloween, it still came around. So what could I do? I deeply wanted Hayden to experience Halloween like any child does. The problem was when I just threw him into the mix it was a disaster. He would have a behavior with another child or his sister. It was exactly what I was afraid of.
So I stepped back and assessed. I asked myself – What do I want Hayden to get out of Halloween? Once I thought about it for awhile I realized I wanted him to have the experience of dressing up, going out and asking for the candy. I wanted him to be able to say in school that he went trick or treating. So now I knew what I wanted and was able to plan around those goals. Last year was the first year he didn’t have a behavior on Halloween – success!
Here are my survival tips for Halloween and what helped our family have fun:
- Have realistic expectations – There is so much pressure we parents of kids on the spectrum put on ourselves to provide the perfectly normal experience. We want so desperately for our kids to fit in. But what’s normal or typical? If going to only a few houses is all your child can handle then do that or if going out is to difficult then have family members go into different rooms of your own house and give out candy. Make it work for your child and for you. That will make it an enjoyable experience.
- Pick costumes carefully – Warning! Be careful, danger ahead! This is what defines Halloween maybe even more then the candy. Pick very carefully. You understand your child better than anyone. If your child can’t do furry fabrics because it’s uncomfortable then don’t pick that. Choose something or make something that makes your child feel comfortable and if they are more comfortable in their day cloths then its fine. Remember – it’s about your child having some fun in whatever way works for them.
- Think about the candy – Maybe your child is like mine, super picky about everything! So candy is no exception. If your child likes only certain types of candy and you have some friends and family you can count on, buy the candy and give it to those people to hand out to your child when they go out trick or treating. Another idea is if you don’t think your child can handle going out, then have them stay in with you and help hand out candy. Try and set everyone up for success. It will make for a better night.
- Who should I Trick or Treat with – This is the part that really makes me anxious. It can be too many people and so many kids. This is the part that I plan out. Think about these questions: Can your child handle going in a group or would it be better to take them by themselves? How many houses should you go to? Should you only go to houses where your child knows the families? What time would be best to start – do you want to see a lot of people or is it easy when it’s not as crowded? I would also ask Hayden after each house if he was done. If he said yes then we went home. Make sure you can follow through with this if you are going to use it. Once I decided that we would only do 3-5 houses in our neighborhood, we left earlier then most kids and made the grandparents come to us, our evening was much better.
- Don’t forget the siblings – This may be the hardest to manage. My daughter loves Halloween and always wants us to be together as a family. Over the years we’ve had to go with Hayden and then with her or split up. You want the siblings of the child with autism to have fun and not impede on their holiday in any way. Talk to the siblings (they need to be old enough for this of course) and ask them what they want or give them a few options.
Always remember what your goal is and use these suggestions to help you achieve them. Your child doesn’t have to do everything and neither do you. Do what’s most meaningful and fun for you both.
Knowing that Halloween is quickly approaching, I reminded Hayden, who is now 12, and asked him what he wanted to be this year. He told me, “I don’t want to dress up this year.” Well ok then. So I asked him if he would help me hand out the candy. He said, “I can do that. I can be your helper.” Yes, buddy you are my best helper.
Now I get to look forward to celebrating in my house without having to go out – my dream. Sigh. Hayden and I will also watch Charlie Brown’s Halloween special and eat some candy together. Perfect.
By Helen Shafer- Founder at The Shafer Center for Early Intervention.
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