Trick or treat! It’s the universal phrase used by children during the spooky holiday to charm many households into giving them loads of candy before moving onto the next house.
Halloween can be a thrilling and fun experience for many children. However, for children on the spectrum, the thrills and frills can sometimes be too much to handle on the holiday.
A mother of a three-year-old autistic boy inspired parents of autistic children with the idea of using the blue jack-‘o-lantern bucket for Autism Awareness. Omairis Taylor said it was stressful for both her and her son when households waited for him to say trick or treat for a piece of candy.
“This year, we will be trying the blue bucket to signify he has autism,” Taylor said in a Facebook post. “Please allow him (or anyone with a blue bucket) to enjoy this day and don’t worry, I’ll still say trick or treat for him. I’ll get my mom candy tax later.”
Taylor’s post is a step in the right direction to inspire conversations about inclusivity and awareness that can address challenges that can potentially prevent children on the spectrum from enjoying things other kids are doing.
This single post alone inspired many news outlets to cover Taylor’s post and spread the message to other parents to help make the Halloween experience an inclusive one for autistic children.
However, the idea isn’t well praised by adults on the spectrum. Autism Advocate, Tiffany Tully of Quirky.Stimmy.Cool criticized the idea in a post because the color of the pumpkin is closely aligned to Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy group infamous for promoting the notion that autism can be “cured.”
Tully said that it’s also too close to the Teal Pumpkin project, helping children and families with food allergies know which houses have safe, allergy-free treats for them. She said it can potentially endanger the safety of the child, as well.
“Letting strangers know that you have a vulnerable child and live close by can be dangerous,” Tully said. “Predators prey on autistics or disabled individuals. It’s something we as parents need to be aware so we can make sure our kids stay safe, especially in their own homes.”
Although Tully’s arguments are valid and strong, the blue bucket sparks a conversation about inclusivity for children on the spectrum that few people had considered.
There is a time and a place to have these conversations and you don’t want to ever disregard them, but how can we also look at a way to help people who haven’t had a personal experience with autism understand how to best interact with young kids, asked UNO associate professor, Mitzi Ritzman, Ph.D., who specializes in special education and communication disorders.
“If people start to recognize that a blue pumpkin jack-‘o’-lantern that the kiddo is carrying indicates that he may not be able to say ‘trick-or-treat,’ I think that may shift the way the interaction looks,” Ritzman said.
Mother of 14-year-old autistic son, Jennifer Whitehouse said she thinks parents with a child with ASD should follow the blue Halloween bucket idea, but not all parents will be aware of the idea.
“As a parent, all you can do is be there for your child,” Whitehouse said. “If they don’t verbalize or say trick or treat then just encourage them to do so or say it for them.”
There are ways for parents and families to individually make Halloween an inclusive experience for children on the spectrum.
“Helping them understand that this is a special occasion and giving them an opportunity to see what is going to happen on this particular day only in advance might make more sense to the child,” Ritzman said.
Ritzman explained that a lot of things on Halloween are scary by nature to children alone.
“Even though they are just for fun, you have to think about the way they are set up on lawn displays,” Ritzman said. “Those are scary for children.”
We have to also consider the bright, flashing lights and loud sounds, which can be overwhelming for children on the spectrum because of sensory differences.
“Pre-teaching and reminding kids as they embark on the experience that decorations and sounds are for pretend,” Ritzman said.
I would also recommend skipping certain houses that have flashy and loud decorations that can easily upset them. When choosing costumes for autistic children, make sure they are comfortable enough in them that they can have it on for a certain amount of time.
Whitehouse said households should be sensible and not make a child say trick or treat if they aren’t able to.
“Tell them they look great and have fun!” Whitehouse said.
This conversation of inclusivity for children on the spectrum shouldn’t stop at Halloween. The community around them, both family and friends, should help make every holiday experience an inclusive and enjoyable one.