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To the City That Fines Older Kids for Trick-or-Treating

Dear City Council Members,

In your city of Chesapeake, VA, anyone over the age of 14 who goes trick-or-treating could be punished with a $250 fine. This is a step down from the city’s previous policy which said kids over the age of 12 could be fined for trick-or-treating or even face jail time. It is a step in the right direction, but why keep the ordinance at all? You say it’s just to keep everyone safe — so the police can act if someone were to do “something malicious” — but these bans and fines do more harm then good.

If the city has never fined or jailed a person, as you’ve said, get rid of the ordinance. You may see it as a crime deterrent, but what it really does is promote the stigma that many kids, teens and young adults with disabilities face, by enforcing the idea that there’s an age limit for who gets to publicly enjoy Halloween.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays because you can enjoy it regardless of your age, gender, culture, religion or disability. Punishing teenagers for trick-or-treating, even though you say it won’t be strictly enforced, creates suspicion around older kids who want to trick-or-treat well into their teens. Older kids like my brother.

There are many reasons a teenager may be trick-or-treating and I want you to keep that in mind this Halloween. Whether it’s disability-related or not, you don’t know everyone’s story or their reasons for being out. 

I personally went trick-or-treating far past the age of 12 because my brother will not speak to adults, and we continued to do this even when my brother was in his teens. My parents are first responders and worked nights, I was the only one who could go with my brother. Halloween is his favorite holiday, even if you were to put it up against all the other holidays combined. I went with him to make sure that no one would give him a hard time. I would rather look like the tall, too old trick-or-treater than let anyone say anything negative about my brother being quiet. And boy did they ever. I’ve never seen so many adults have a problem with shyness. The barrage of questions at every door was enough to make any child want to run for the hills, let alone someone nonverbal or on the autism spectrum. I often wanted to scream, “You’re giving out 25 cent bazooka bubblegum, he doesn’t need to perform for you.” If you were to ban teen trick-or-treaters, a lot of nonverbal children will lose their protectors.

I have seen so many parents trying to teach other people manners. One viral social media post encourages those on the autism spectrum to carry a blue candy bucket to signify they may have trouble saying “trick-or-treat” in exchange for candy. I’ve also been overwhelmed by the print out trick-or-treat cards on Pinterest with little phrases like, “Hi I’m Autistic and I have trouble making eye contact,” or, “I’m sorry for not being able to say trick-or-treat but just know you’re making my Halloween awesome.”

Think about what it says about us as a society that children with autism need to carry around cards apologizing for their verbal skills. As those children eventually become teenagers their need to practice social interaction — and their love for Halloween — doesn’t suddenly stop. 

We already ask so much of teens and children with autism and disabilities. We shouldn’t be putting more limitations on who can and cannot participate in what’s supposed to be a fun holiday.

There’s no need for a ban or a fine against teenagers who are trick-or-treating, what’s the harm in handing out a few more Reese’s? And if people have a problem with a teenager coming to their door or someone not saying trick-or-treat? Tell them to turn their porch light off and go get a start on Christmas decorating. They don’t have to participate, it’s that simple.

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