Another Halloween is fast approaching and it brings me to the kind an evening I faced with trepidation as a child of the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Before cell phones, social media and selfies, we dressed up like goblins and ghosts and our parents took pictures with cameras with film that took at least a week to develop.
It was a time before vast safety measures we parents put in place today to keep our little ghouls and witches safe from harm and strangers. No, our parents weren’t negligent, it was a simpler time and naiver era. We wore full masks over our cherub cheeks that obstructed our views. We trick-or-treated well into the night under streetlights. We ran from house to house with groups of school friends, and often without parental supervision. We ate loads of sugary, messy candy and forgot to brush our teeth. It’s just what we did.
No one ever asked me if I wanted to trick-or-treat.
On every October 31st of my childhood, I trudged out in the rain and sometimes snow to drag my bag loaded with candy around my neighborhood.
The truth of the matter is, I hated it.
I loathed dressing in some restrictive costume my mom purchased at K-Mart. I hated the feel of the cheap polyester and plastic mask. I could never fit the mask on my face the right way, and I often ended up snapping myself in the head with the flimsy elastic string that was supposed to hold the mask in place. I tried not wearing a mask and just painted my face with thick Halloween makeup. That was even worse. It itched and made my skin feel like it couldn’t breathe.
Then there was the dilemma of which type of container I should lug around as a receptacle for my haul of candy. A pillowcase was too big, so it was always the good old plastic pumpkin head. It was awkward to carry and filled up way too quickly. Back then people often put homemade treats in our bags. One popcorn ball always filled up half my pumpkin!
This was just the start of what I considered to be a miserable evening.
All the other kids could hardly wait to hit the streets. It was a common fact that all the good candy would be passed out early. I think it was the law in those days. So, it was an unwritten rule that you had to be the first one out in the neighborhood. Not me, I took my time.
If you think I have complained enough about Halloween already, I haven’t gotten to the part I hated the most: walking up to someone’s door and waiting for it to open. Most of the time the person behind the door was extremely cheerful and held a giant bowl of treats. But, every year, there was always at least one household that went out of their way to terrorize the neighborhood children. Sometimes that house was obvious. There was spooky music drifting down from an open window. Or, there were skeletons strewn about the yard covered in fake blood.
I never went to the doors of those homes because I knew they just wanted me to have a good scare. At least those houses were visually showing you what they were up to. No, it was the houses where everything looked fine. Maybe there was a glowing pumpkin on the doorstep. Or maybe there’d be a stuffed scarecrow sitting on the front porch with a bowl of candy resting in its lap.
What could be more festive and innocent? It turned out the scarecrow was a REAL person who jumped out at you and screamed when you took a piece of candy. Most kids thought this was the highlight of their haunted evening. For me it was terrifying.
It was complete sensory overload.
It was the culmination of a no good, very overwhelming experience for me. I tell you this story not because I strongly dislike Halloween, although I do. I tell this story because this is what Halloween feels like for many of us on the autism spectrum.
Halloween can be just too much of everything.
Too many people crowding sidewalks and front porches. Too much noise from screaming and spooky music. Too much social interaction. It is very difficult to trick-or-treat without saying a word.
This brings me to another point, saying please and thank you. While it is important to teach and encourage politeness and proper manners, this can difficult for children on the spectrum. I remember trick-or-treating with my daughters and one of our neighbors refused to give my daughter candy because she wouldn’t ask for it herself. Since my daughter is autistic, I knew she had difficulty communicating. Her sister eventually got the candy for her, but the damage was already done. My daughters are older now and are not really interested in going out door to door anymore.
Trick-or-treating for me has come full circle.
Now I pass out candy to tiny witches and goblins. It’s not difficult for me to remember how I felt when I was out with my pumpkin head container all those years ago. I’m very aware that not all children will love this holiday’s traditions.
So, this year if you’re the one designated to pass out candy, please remember that some of your visitors will be on the autism spectrum.
Try to be sensitive to the children who do not talk or abruptly run from the door. Halloween is a tremendously social event. Not everyone is comfortable with that amount of interaction. For those parents with children on the spectrum, be sensitive to your child’s needs. Maybe stopping at a few houses is all your child can manage. Maybe staying home or going out for an alternative activity best accommodates your child this year.
Whatever you choose to do, enjoy your Halloween but don’t forget to let autistic children enjoy it too in whatever way suits them best.
If you liked this post, you may also like: