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When I Wondered If I Should 'Bother' With Halloween for My Boys on the Autism Spectrum

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I remember picking out a Scooby Doo costume before Halloween for our twin boys right before their autism diagnosis. They loved playing with the cartoon stuffed animal, but they still weren’t verbal yet, so I assumed they would want to be a detective dog for the holiday. As a family, we were excited. I got those little plastic pumpkin candy buckets, bought the costumes at a party store and had them try on their costumes before the big day.

Halloween came, and off we went down our block to the first decorated house. My husband and I held both our boys’ hands and walked up to the door and rang the bell. A sweet lady came out and walked toward us with candy, “Oh my, we have two Scoobys!”  She threw some candy in our buckets and went back into her house. That was it. The boys watched her go back in and close her door.  We thought it was pretty successful so we moved on. We were talking about how our boys will get the hang of this. They seemed to like that we were walking up into houses that we used to just walk by.

boy dressed as scooby doo for halloween

Next house, the owner was already outside, so we received candy and moved to the next house. House number three had a stoop. So we walked up to it, rang the bell, but no one came to the door. We rang the door again, and waited, and decided to move on. But our boys didn’t understand there would be more candy at the next house. So they both dropped to the floor and started crying.

By now, the boys seemed to understand that today was a day they wear felt outfits and get candy from neighbors on our block. We were creating a Halloween tradition for them. In hindsight, it makes me laugh as we had two weepy Scooby Doos in front of a neighbor’s house and we weren’t sure how to explain to our kids that we just move on. They were devastated, and at that moment, I felt a little defeated. This really wasn’t turning out to be as magical as I’d planned. So hubs and I scooped them up and went home. Maybe next year, we said.

The next year, they were still nonverbal but were huge Thomas the Tank and Lightning McQueen fans, so naturally, I stood in that line at Party City with them and bought one costume of each of their heroes. We got dressed up on that big day, and off we went as a family. This year was a little different. By house number four, they were upset people weren’t letting them in their homes. We tried to explain to them that you just receive candy, say, “Thank you,” and move on. By house number six, both made a run for it inside our neighbor’s house, and when we caught up with them in the foyer, they both collapsed in a crying heap because they were used to going into a home after the door opened. I felt defeated standing in a casual neighbor’s house, but the homeowner was really sweet and we got way more candy than expected from that house. We scooped up our boys and headed home.

boy with autism dressed as a car for halloween

boy dressed as thomas the tank

So with that lesson learned, we practiced for next year. Sometimes, you only can stand at the door. Sometimes, people let you in. We did those things with family when we remembered to give the lesson.

By the next year, our boys still couldn’t tell us what they wanted to be for Halloween. We thought, well, they like french fries and bananas, so if they could be anything, that’s what they would want to be dressed as.  I ordered the costumes online, got them all dressed up, and off we went. We hit every house without a problem and our twins had an awesome enough time to be tired and point toward our house to go home. It took three years, but I would say mission accomplished.

boys with autism dressed as a banana and french fries for halloween

Halloween will not be what you imagine in your head, or it may. You will never know unless you try. I knew in my heart they could tolerate the costumes, the walking, the waiting, and I wanted them to experience what other neighborhood children were experiencing on that day. But I went back and forth with my husband on whether it was “worth it” taking them. But three years in, they got the hang of it. It was joyful to watch them. My boys are 16 years old now. We don’t trick or treat anymore, but the early years are my fondest memories. The challenges and the little triumphs are totally worth it. I’m glad I bothered.

Photos via contributor.

Originally published: October 23, 2018
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