Every year around this time, I am asked the same question: “Do you have any good tips on how to help my autistic child have a successful Halloween?
And my answer is always the same: Build awareness.
To me, that’s a huge factor to your child being successful at any time, not just Halloween. Build it with those around you and practice with your child to make them as comfortable as possible.
Last year was our most successful Halloween to-date. Successful to me means two things: Safe and happy.
How do you build awareness?
Let’s start with the people closest to you.
How many people in your neighborhood know you have an autistic child?
I hope, after all the work I have put into it, all of mine do.
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Last year before Halloween, I made sure everyone knew about our son. They knew what he looked like, the costume he was going to wear, the type of bucket he would be carrying, that he was preverbal and he may not respond “appropriately” to receiving treats.
I also gave them these details because Halloween is filled with crowded streets, a lot of noise and darkness . . . a perfect mix for sensory overload or worse, losing him in the mix.
See, my son, Finn, a.k.a. “Houdini,” is a great escape artist. He is what most of us in the autism world call an “eloper.”
He doesn’t sense danger. He would run into the street, woods, or maybe jump in a nearby pond. He bolts from us incredibly fast, without warning, so we must have a hand on him and 1:1 supervision at all times.
Because of this reason alone, I am all for awareness . . . any kind.
ALL of my neighbors have had the opportunity to see a picture of my son, know the details and I even post them on our Facebook community page.
They know his disability is invisible. And when they learn about our son, they gain knowledge about autism in general, which can benefit other families.
They can see my son doesn’t “look autistic”—that you can’t just tell that by seeing a person. They know he probably won’t respond to his name when called, that if you chase he may run faster. They understand he is drawn to water, playground equipment, and dogs. They have even been given permission to grab him and put him in their car if they need to, should he ever wander off. In fact, our neighbors were wonderful and jumped into action when we needed them most last April when my son got away from my husband and we had to dial 9-1-1 for the first time.
Your child’s disability shouldn’t be a secret. In fact making others aware could save their life, or another child’s.
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Building awareness reminds them that all kids that have challenges and struggles aren’t always obvious, like someone in a wheelchair. People need to know that our kids look just like theirs. They are living on the same streets, getting educated in the same classrooms. They go to school with their children. They are in the grocery store and at the park.
We can work towards inclusion every day . . . but without the education and awareness it will never be at the level we hope for. So I use occasions like this to build more awareness for everyone.
Autism shouldn’t be a “secret world” filled with only tiny online groups who “get it.”
I suggest you add different types of people to your circle if you can, ones who don’t have children with Autism . . . ones that will teach their children about what autism could look like in others, educate them about disabilities and friends that might behave differently. Then perhaps those children will pass that kindness and knowledge onto others and future generations.
I also realize how you choose to build awareness is a very personal, family decision.
You may want them to stand out, to carry something that symbolizes those differences.
Or you may worry they will be a target, more vulnerable to ridicule and harm.
I get the need to want so desperately for your child to just fit in, to blend.
But my son has severe autism—he can’t ever be left alone. He has sensory seeking, self-regulatory stims that stand out. He scripts entire TV shows or YouTube clips instead of answering questions.
He’s not always going to just “fit in.”
He couldn’t even do that in kindergarten.
I pulled him from his public school last year because his own teacher and aides were treating him differently, excluding him from his peers.
His ABA center has denied him access due to his “behaviors” and COVID-19 restrictions.
He is being singled out anyway because of his “typical autistic behaviors.”
So I choose to fight to educate anyone who will listen, who is willing to learn.
This leads to the awareness we can all build for those we don’t know.
Because there’s a whole world out there just like them, who don’t understand. And I feel like it’s my job to make the world a better place for my kids.
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For others to understand they are “socially unique” and beautiful.
That different isn’t scary.
I just want more understanding of what autism really is.
More support for families who desperately need it.
People can say, “Well they should just be kind anyway.”
I want that for all of my kids, for all people with disabilities, believe me.
I wish it were that simple and that everyone sprinkled it around like confetti, but some don’t.
I’ve caught the stares when my child is melting down. I’ve received far too many nasty glares as I chase my child through Target. I am more often being judged for my parenting than offered a helping hand when both my son and I are having a hard moment in public.
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I purposely wear an “Ask Me About Autism” pin when I’m out so that when they see my child displaying behaviors or melting down, it makes them think about the next child they encounter like that. If they see a parent having a difficult time, they might think twice.
It’s also a great conversation starter. I have had many strangers ask about my son instead of running away because of a simple $5 pin from Amazon.
Everyone is a lifelong learner. All types of people vote for change in this country. Imagine how many would fight along with us for our kids if they knew more about them?
And maybe some of the changes start with me. Maybe they start on Halloween. Maybe they start with you, too.
Perhaps they start with preparing your child the best you can so he or she knows what to expect. Maybe it’s getting a kind neighbor to let them come early when it’s light out or even a few days ahead. Maybe it’s giving that neighbor a special item your child would be excited about other than candy to give to them. Maybe it’s preparing them for interaction with your child as much as it is about preparing the child himself.
Originally published on the author’s Facebook page