As December draws to a close, I realize that I haven’t really had a chance to reflect on Halloween. So, how does a food-free, pumpkin-allergic boy with high anxiety and a hatred of costumes do Halloween? Very Carefully.
It takes some planning, to be sure.
Hurdle #1 – The costume. The boy hates things that touch his head, face, or neck. Also, he’s not thrilled with pants that don’t look like his regular everyday pants, shirts that do and/or don’t have sleeves, jackets, hats, or nudity. He hates shoes that look different than his normal shoes, boots, sandals, socks with “things” in them, and being barefoot. So I can tell you quite honestly that if getting dressed every day is a war, then a Halloween Costume is a Nuclear Bomb.
By this age (almost four), most kids have some idea of what they’d like to be. The idea might change daily (hourly?), but there are ideas out there. Ninja Turtle. Queen Elsa. Spider Man. Sharknado. We don’t really have that here. Though I don’t know what every child with Autism is like, my child with Autism is too literal to really “get it” – he knows that he isn’t a Ninja Turtle, so how absurd to dress up like one.
Once we get through that, with assurances upon assurances that we’re just pretending, isn’t that silly!?, we still need to figure out who/what we’re pretending to be. This year, it really just fell into our laps. After a particularly positive visit with his GI, Aidan looked at me and said “Do you think I’m Doctor Liacouras?” I can make that happen, kid! Traditional white lab coat with a stethoscope wouldn’t really do – Dr. L is a Surgeon and Surgeons wear Scrubs – a quick query to my 200 closest friends got us a couple of pairs of embroidered scrubs, ready for Halloween happiness. Since our little doctor-to-be has no fewer than five doctor kits of his own, accessories were already covered. We lucked out here – scrubs are as close as humanly possible to pajamas, and it only took Aidan a couple of trial runs to get used to wearing them. By Halloween, putting them on was a privilege! He now has scrub options, and can give you a scrub fashion show.
Hurdle #2 – The décor. Okay, so pumpkins. We don’t do pumpkins. The boy is severely allergic, think anaphylaxis. Since I take death pretty seriously, we don’t play around, and there were no pumpkins to be found in our household. No worries though – we had plenty of faux pumpkin love, tubie-style.
Hurdle #3 – The treats. This is the big bad. And the problem is two-fold – both at school and out in the community. I’ll tackle school first.
As Halloween approached, we got a note home from school inviting us to come visit for Aidan’s Halloween parade, and then stay to help celebrate by decorating cookies. Really? I had to say something – honestly, WHY do three-year-olds need cookies on Halloween? Is a Halloween Craft really just too disappointing? I responded with an email:
I got the note about next week's Halloween Parade and cookie decorating activity. Obviously, Aidan can't participate in cookie decorating, but I would like to help find an alternative activity that he can do so that he won't feel excluded. It's very important to us that Aidan be able to participate in these activities with his peers as often as possible.
In the future, please let me know if there's anything I can do to help make celebrations more inclusive by taking the focus away from food. I would be happy to help provide crafts or activities for his classmates that would allow everyone to safely enjoy the celebration together.
I don’t know what I’d hoped to accomplish – I just needed them to know that whether they knew it or not, they were excluding Aidan by choosing something that literally every child but him could do, and it’s not the only way to celebrate. To call their response disappointing is an understatement.
Thank you for your email. We do have crafts for the children as well. Please understand that when planning Halloween we tend to keep activities very simple as very few families choose to stay after the parade. I do however understand your concern and would never exclude Aidan from the class.
Have a nice weekend.
It’s hurtful, I think, because I’ve told them that they’re excluding him and their only response is a halfhearted “Oh we would never…” I did the best I could, because that the end of the day, we are his parents and it's our job to fight these battles. I sent him foam shapes that might look like “cookies” along with glitter glue “frosting” and foam sticker “sprinkles.” I wasn’t at the party, but my husband tells me that he had a good time.
I also sent in non-food treats for all of his peers, because that’s how we roll. His classmates’ parents either know he has severe allergies, or think we’re really pointlessly passionate about not eating ever. Either way, I think they went over well.
I’m sure this is just the first of many run-ins (Actually, not the first, just the most recent.) with school over inclusion. It just breaks my heart to know that they don’t care. “Easy” won out over “Right”, and there’s been a noticeable difference in the way his school has treated us since this email exchange.
But back to the positive stuff – Treats Out and About.
Our Halloween tradition is to Trick or Treat with Aidan’s best friend, Teddy. This year was no exception, so Dr. Aidan and Engineer Teddy went out on the town and collected truly insane amounts of candy from every “Halloween House” in Teddy’s neighborhood. Having prepared extensively (thank you, social stories, TV shows, and visual schedules!), Aidan was SUPER successful this year, and even said “Trick or Treat” at almost every house! Well, halfway through, he forgot the phrase “Trick or Treat” and subbed in “Halloween!” – But, you know, samesies!
I prepared ahead by making Aidan-safe just-sugar lollipops (Recipe here), and snuck one in his bag of loot. At the end of the night, he enjoyed a lollipop while I went through his stash and picked out what he could keep. We actually saw a few Teal Pumpkin houses, where non-food treats were given out – how awesome! Aidan wound up with quite a few things between his school friends and Teal Pumpkin houses, and of course, Teddy’s wonderful Nana.
The next day, we took Aidan’s candy bucket to the toy store, where I set us all up for success by placing one toy that I knew he’d love in eyesight, and offered him the opportunity to buy it with his candy bucket. He was so happy and very proudly handed that candy over. He never once asked for the candy again. Spur of the moment decision, but I think it will be a new tradition, because it went over really well!
So that was our Halloween in a nutshell. So much success. I hope to be able to work more closely with his school in the future to make their celebrations less exclusionary, at Halloween and all year long.