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Dear Neighbors, Here's What You May Not Know About My Teenage Trick-or-Treater

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Dear Neighbors,

Halloween is coming! And since we live in suburbia-o-rama, where cars drive in from other areas to enjoy our perfect-for-tricks-and-treats neighborhood, you all are about to experience the magic of adorably costumed children with that gleam in their eyes that can only come from the anticipation of buckets filled with candy.

What you all may not be ready for, however, is the occasional giant kid ringing your doorbell. That kid who looks, to you, like he’s much too old to be out trick-or-treating among those smaller kids.

You may even say to yourself, “Shame on that kid! Obviously she’s only out for the candy. Selfish.”

Well, I’ve read a lot of different articles lately about those teenagers who cling to their childhood on Halloween night, and how wonderful it is for them, and how we should let them enjoy these last few years of Halloween while they can.

And I totally agree. It’s wonderful, and all those teenagers are welcome at my door.

But what I’m writing about here is my own 6-foot-tall Halloween participant — another trick-or-treater you may not be ready for. The lanky, skinny kid who will be dressed head-to-toe in a black synthetic fiber Morpher suit, carrying his light-up pumpkin bucket while other kids his age are carrying pillow cases.  

The same kid who used to ring your doorbell on Halloween, say “trick or treat!” much too loudly, and look at your offerings. The kid who said “No, thanks” if you didn’t have Hershey’s plain chocolate, plain M&Ms or Twix. The same kid who now will take anything you have because he knows he can trade it in after he gets home for what he prefers.

The tall kid with size 12 shoes whose father will be waiting for him at the foot of your driveway, just as he has for the past 14 years.

That tall kid is my TJ. He’s 15 years old and on the autism spectrum.

boy in halloween costume

On the outside, he looks like any other 15-year-old boy. He’s got a faint mustache, getting thicker, that he refuses to shave. He’s got some beard hairs (that he sometimes counts and keeps track of, by the way), and he’s a little pimply. He’s got a deep man-voice.

My boy still loves “Sesame Street.” He DVRs it every day and fast forwards to The Count’s “Number of the Day.” He still loves his elementary school animal books. We got rid of one of his favorites by accident last spring in a yard sale, thinking he’d grown out of it. Huge mistake. We just got a replacement book delivered last week (thank you, Amazon!). He loves the exact same lunch he’s loved since kindergarten. Ham in a bag. Bread in a separate bag. An apple (now we don’t have to cut it up, he eats it whole. Huge accomplishment for us!). Two Oreos.  

And he loves trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Yes, on the outside he looks like he is too old to participate in this childhood tradition. Yes, you may think “Halloween is for the young children! I’m not going to indulge a selfish teenager only out for candy!”

You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.

But please understand that while TJ is in high school and working hard to be a responsible teenager in class, once he gets home, he’s all kid.

It’s more comfortable to him. He has no interest in social media. He’d rather watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” over and over again — the VHS tape, not the DVD because that’s what he’s been doing since he was little.

He would rather watch a cartoon alone than go to a movie with a friend.

He would rather draw his Simpsons characters, cut them out and sort them, as he thinks of different episodes in his head.

These things provide comfort to a boy who works tirelessly to hold it together at school day after day, where responsibility and attention to detail is required.

Let’s face it, growing up is no picnic, autism or not. How many times have you thought of the ease of childhood with yearning and wonder? How many times have you wished you could go back to a time of minimal responsibility?

So when you see my tall boy on your doorstep, holding out his light-up pumpkin, yelling “trick or treat!” at you, please try to remember that even though he’s grown up on the outside, these traditions are still so important to him.

A thrilled, excited, happy, comfortable-in-his-skin kid who just wants to enjoy this child-focused event like every other kid.

Thank you, neighbors, in advance, for giving my sweet boy another year of good Halloween memories.

Originally published: October 29, 2015
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