Trick or treat. For my son, this was exactly how the evening went. Each house we went to, the walk up the drive was filled with anticipation. Would the door be opened by a smiling face? Or someone in a frightening costume? Or sometimes by a grumpy annoyed person, who knows why. Maybe they were out of treats and forgot to turn off the porch light. At least that’s what I suspected when an annoyed older gentleman dug into his pocket, threw some change into my son’s bag and closed the door. Luckily, Kyle didn't notice because he had his head in the bag trying to see what was put in it. By the time we reached the end of the driveway, the porch light was out.
Sometimes people think it’s funny to try to scare the children as they come up to their door. One time we walked up to the door and rang the bell. Something caused a life sized paper skeleton to rise up next to the door. Kyle stumbled backwards and bumped into the railing. Someone had left an open beer on the rail and it spilled down the back of Kyle’s cape. The worst part was that no one ever came to the door. There was no treat, just a trick. And now I have to walk home with my little boy with sensory issues, wet, sticky and reeking of booze.
Luckily we have many happy memories too. One person down the street had a big, happy, Great Dane named Zeus. Each year as my boy grew he was less intimidated by the horse sized dog. The couple who owned him would sit in lawn chairs at the top of their driveway. Zeus was at their side on a leash. He would gently wag his tail and lower his head, hoping for a pat from a child. I always rubbed his head and tried to coax Kyle to do the same. Zeus enjoyed my attention, but would stretch his head in Kyle’s direction. After a few years, Kyle finally did rub his head a bit.
There were also a few neighbors we had come to know. They would smile and talk to Kyle. They would complement his costume and remark about how much he had grown. But the best memories we have come from other activities. Fall festivals at church and school were the best. They usually did not fall on Halloween, but the Saturday before. Having an assortment of carnival like activities is awesome for a child with sensory issues. We can control what he has to deal with so he can have the best experience possible. We can arrive early, find nearby parking in case a quick exit is necessary. The crowds are less, which helps. We can pick and choose the activities so we don’t overwhelm him. If it is our church or school, we can come and go as we need to, because people who know him understand he might need to step out for a while. That’s not always possible at a large community event. If you leave, you may have to pay to re enter. So we learned over the years which events were best for us. Also, with events at church or school, he would run into some of his friends. Then they would ignore the planned activities and start a game of imagination, each of them dressed for the part. It was a lot of fun to see Harry Potter and Batman teaming up to fight evil.
But Halloween always ended with a trip to grandma’s house. For some reason, all my family seems to end up there. So now there was costumed play with the cousins, drinks, hors d’oeuvres and chat for the adults. Kyle would also use this time to give away most of his candy. He has strong reactions to food dyes and most holiday candy is loaded with it. It was crazy fun to watch him run around outside at night, at grandma’s house, with kids we love.
Then it was home for bath and bed. Sometimes the bath would have to wait until the next day. But I do remember peeling a sticky sweaty Elmo costume of a half asleep 3 year old. I think I just stood him in the shower that year.
We’ve learned so much over the years, about autism, food and sensitivity issues. Even though he will soon be 16, he has learned to carry tools for a successful trip. He has ear plugs and a headset (in case the crowds or music is too loud) He has mint in a plastic bottle (to sniff if his stomach gets upset) and activities to do in case he needs to escape into his own world (like drawing, a book or video game). For extreme situations he may bring a jacket. This allows him to wrap up if he needs to and not draw attention.
It’s been a long road, and we still have our moments. But understanding Kyle’s needs and finding acceptable ways to deal with them has helped him succeed in a world that doesn't always understand him.