Making It Through Halloween With a Child on the Autism Spectrum
Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. As a child, I couldn’t wait to stay up late and go out in the dark to see all the spooky costumes and the excitement that filled the cold, winter streets. Groups of friends going door to door trick or treating while others are lurking around ready to jump out and give a good fright.
But, as a mother, this feeling of excitement has been replaced with worry. Not because I am worried about what kind of mischief my child will get into, but rather if my kids will last the day without having a panic attacks or meltdowns. I have a child with autism and a child with anxiety. My oldest boy, who is 13, is autistic. My younger boy, who is 9, has anxiety. For both boys, this holiday comes with fear. Not your typical fear of monsters and scares, but a fear of change.
On a typical day we might struggle to do some basic tasks, such as going to school or the grocery store. On a “rough” day my autistic child might struggle going to school while my other son is asking repeatedly if I am going anywhere that day, looking for reassurance and afraid I may not be home when he returns. After hours of patience and reassurance I manage to get them to school, but sometimes within an hourI might receive a call from the school.
Then comes this day, this day full of chaos. The children will return from their long day at school and put on their costumes to wait impatiently for the sun to set, gather their friends, glow sticks, flash lights and head off into the night. They will go door to door excited for what the next house will bring, filling their bags with candy and staying up late. Enjoying their night without structure. Their evening without a bedtime or an early curfew.
It is a day that comes without routine or structure, the very structure that gives my boys the reassurance they need.
But, we will gather our strength and we will face this day together. Whether they go trick or treating or stay home and pass out candy, I will be there for them. Reassuring them they are strong enough to get through it. Reassuring them things will be OK. Even if we have meltdowns and tears, we will embrace this day.
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Thinkstock image by Choreograph