Autism Halloween :: It’s a Scary Story

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.

Leah is a Massachusetts native who grew up in the MetroWest area. She met her husband in 2006 and they bonded over all things Boston. After moving to North Carolina for 4 years, they realized they had to move back to New England. (love that dirty water!) In 2011 they welcomed a son into their family. Then 2014, 1 week before having their daughter, their son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The last but not least little guy came in 2017. With three kids and special needs in their life, they rely on an amazing support system of friends and family. Leah is a stay at home mom, who is also growing a small business, and enjoying the independence and freedom it has given her. Loves: Great food (mostly made by her talented husband), playing with the kids, the beach, date nights, The Pats, The Sox, The B’s, new socks and bras, and American history, and movies. Can’t stand: Cotton balls, weeds, broken crayons, pollen, and vacuuming up Cheerios every half hour.