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Halloween Isn't About the Candy for My Son With Autism

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We’re counting down the days until Halloween at our house. My 14-year-old son, Tate, has autism, and he’s been texting me reminders about Halloween for months. Tate tells me often that Halloween is his favorite holiday. If someone told me nine or 10 years ago that would someday be true, I’d have been sure they were wrong.

Although Tate did enjoy our annual trip to the pumpkin patch, that was one of the only things he liked about Halloween. When he was small, he was terrified of the costumes hanging on racks at the stores. On Halloween, Tate’s dad took his siblings trick-or-treating while we stayed home. His older siblings had to be careful to leave their masks off until they were out of the house. He didn’t seem to understand the masks didn’t change the true identity of the person behind them. Mask off and the kids standing in the room with us were his beloved brothers and sisters. Mask on and they took on the identities of strange princesses, superheroes and ghosts.

When Tate was in an early intervention program and attended a preschool with typically developing peers, he needed to wear a costume for the school’s Halloween party. I realized it would be an invaluable learning experience for him, but I knew convincing him to wear a costume would be challenging. I had to come up with costumes for Tate that were similar to his everyday attire. For example, he was a cowboy that first year of preschool. That only required boots, a hat and a western shirt. In kindergarten, he was The Cat in The Hat. I feared he wouldn’t cooperate when I suggested we use a marker on his face, but he surprised me. It helped that Dr. Seuss was Tate’s hero at the time.

By the time he was in second or third grade, he thought Halloween was a pretty fun holiday. He loves to dress up in costume now. Two years ago, he told me he wanted to be a remote control for Halloween. I panicked because I knew I was never going to find a remote control costume, and Tate, once his mind is made up, is hard to sway. I bought some black and white felt and spent a Saturday morning with my sewing machine, and Tate had a remote control costume.

This year, my 6’3” son wants to be a skeleton. As we walk from house to house to gather the candy he will not eat, I will celebrate the progress he has made. I know eventually he will be “too old” chronologically to trick or treat, no matter his developmental age. But for at least one more year, we’re trick-or-treating with all the other kids who love Halloween. For a lot of kids it’s all about the candy, but the only candy Tate will put in his mouth are M&Ms and Hershey’s chocolate bars.

So for Tate, it’s not about the candy. It’s about the adventure. And that is huge when you live with autism.

Follow this journey on Quirks and Chaos.

Originally published: October 21, 2015
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