Halloween is not my favorite holiday. In fact, I can’t stand it. My kids don’t love it either. They have autism and Halloween is a holiday that plays on all senses. I dread finding the “non-Halloween” Halloween costume that won’t bother my kids, worrying about foods at school parties, parades, and sensory overload. I have cut out adorable little tags explaining why my non-verbal son can’t say “Trick or Treat” and apologized when my very verbal daughter tells you exactly what she thinks of the candy you are giving out. I have held my breath when my daughter has gone to the door of a house and asked if she could come in and look around and then cried when I have to explain that it is not appropriate to go into a stranger’s house. But I continue to celebrate it with my children and this year, I figured out why.
It’s all about baby steps. I have pictures of Ella screaming her way through Halloween(ages 1-3) and a couple of years of the same costume(the Ni Hao, Kai Lan costume was actually worn EVERY day for a few months until put away for the following year) until we reached a point that we actually understood a few things about Halloween. Our daughter actually started enjoying the school parties, the parades, and hoopla that goes on BEFORE Halloween. The outdoor pumpkin patches, the cartoons about Halloween and the decorations. And we discovered the “Trunk or Treat,” a very safe and fun way to do the traditional trick-or-treating without the anxiety of stranger danger, dogs-barking, and in general, sensory overload. A parking lot at our church that puts on music, provided bounce houses, and lots of people graciously handing out candy at trunks of cars with no expectations or care or questions.
But, back to baby steps. This year was a year of firsts. Ella picked out her own costume(a cross between cat and princess with a Target dress.) She brought home a pumpkin and wanted to carve a jack-o-lantern. This made me nervous but I gave her the freedom to do it(under my supervision…with a butter knife.) As I watched her concentrate on cutting the pumpkin, I thought of all the years of early intervention and OT, the endless cutting of simple lines with a little pair of school scissors, the frustration in her face when those fine motor skills were so hard for her. As she spooned out the seeds and inside of the pumpkin, I thought of the sensory diets she had been on, getting used to all the strange textures in this world. And here she was, carving her own pumpkin, proud smile on her face. Something I never thought I would see.
Our son, not aware of Halloween, participated in his first parade at school this year the wonderful teachers in his class got him to wear his first “non-Halloween” Halloween costume (you know, the costumes made from everyday clothes so not to bother or distract our extra sensitive kid.) Nope, he was Spiderman and I received the first picture of him “enjoying Halloween.” We skipped giving out candy in favor of our son’s dislike of the doorbell, opening the door and anxiety of not knowing who is at the door. In short, we let our expectations of a “typical Halloween” go and gave our kids the freedom to enjoy the day as themselves.
So all in all, a successful Halloween. What I am learning as a “special needs mom?” I do need to let the expectations go. We may not have the typical holidays that I see plastered all over Facebook and Instagram- perfect happy smiling faces with friends and family, elaborate costumes, etc… but I will have happy kids. And find the ways for our family to celebrate with each other. Accept our differences and enjoy our children for who they are and what they can do.
And now, on to Thanksgiving.