I was a pastor’s kid growing up in Massachusetts, and there are many things that were great about it. I have wonderful memories of Christmas Eve services, potlucks, Easter fun, harvest fairs, and youth group trips. However, the one holiday I really missed out on was Halloween. Instead of trick-or-treating, we had to go to the church “harvest party.” It was the worst. After 20 years, that sad brown paper bag of Smarties and Twizzlers still reminds me of the disappointment I felt thinking about my school friends’ pillowcases full of candy bars.
So, naturally, when I became a mother it was my chance to enjoy Halloween. I loved dressing my babies in poofy costumes and handing out candy to kids. Finally, two years ago, when my son was 4 years old, we were ready to go real trick-or-treating from our new house in our small, quiet neighborhood.
My son is autistic, but I did not want him to miss out on trick-or-treating. I needed to keep an open mind about how this experience may go for the both of us. He decided he wanted to be a chef. Great! All he needed was a chef coat and hat, and he could wear sweat pants and sneakers. I was grateful for this costume choice. He does have sensory issues, and I knew he would be comfortable.
We decided to trick-or-treat with a school friend who lives down the street. It was just three adults and three kids total. Perfect! I knew my son would have gotten overwhelmed if we tried to trick-or-treat with lots of kids. We were off to a great start.
The first few houses were a little confusing for him. He wanted to go inside each house. It was fine — I figured many young kids probably have this reaction the first time trick-or-treating. But by the time we had gone to six houses, he was done. He wanted to continue to walk the neighborhood with his friend but did not want to approach anyone’s house or door. So there I was, in the middle of the street, with an autistic and very anxious 4-year-old who was refusing — loudly — to go trick-or-treating.
We continued to walk around with our friends, because my son did not want to go home. The most heartbreaking part of the night was people’s reactions to my son. People kindly came out of their homes to give him candy, but many became frustrated or even swore when my son protested and said, “No, no, no, please stop!” I understand everyone meant well and did not want him to feel left out, but unfortunately it aggravated the situation. It was rough, and I felt bad that I had put him in a situation that caused him so much anxiety.
We ended the night back at home and passed out candy. He absolutely loved it. Every time the doorbell rang he would launch himself off the couch and run to the door. Luckily, we had plenty of leftover candy, and he did not miss out on any of the fun.
Last year Halloween went much better. We used the previous year’s experience to plan out our night. We first went to a few neighbors’ homes that he was already familiar with, and then we stayed home to hand out candy for the rest of the evening. It was a blast.
Please be aware that all children have different needs. Take your cues from parents. Do not get frustrated if children do not want your candy. Halloween is easy and fun for some children, and difficult and scary for others. No matter what, be patient and kind.