Thursday, October 27, 2011


My day yesterday consisted of two things: sucking up baby frog bones/flesh out of our frog tank--the fallen victim in a war of dominance with the other frog--and sewing a Halloween costume.

Which activity fits me the most?

Frankly, neither. Welcome to parenting. And, while the remains of the frog which we reared from tadpole-hood was just darned creepy to collect, I couldn't exactly leave them in the tank to rot. That's even more disgusting. The sewing? I haven't sewn anything seriously--I mean SERIOUSLY--since I was a kid. Yet, it's Halloween. Again. My taking up a needle and thread was a desperate act.

How do I guide our older son through this holiday without jacking his anxiety through the roof? Dare I even hope that I can manage to make some of it fun for him?

To this day I can remember dressing my nearly-four-month-old son in a candy corn romper, the lights in our family room dimmed for trick-or-treating ambiance. Why did I feel the need to have my baby be part of the tradition of passing out candy? I'm sure at the time, I was trying to celebrate as a family. Today, as I put myself in his shoes, I think this kid was born to some over-zealous parents.

Dark rooms, flashing lights from trick-or-treaters who came to our door, lots of screams
and whoops of spooky delight: talk about sensory overload! I remember our son crying through most of it, and, true to fashion for him, he eventually shut down and fell asleep.

The next year, I vowed, would be better. But, by the time the next year rolled around, it was evident that our son couldn't even tolerate standing in the same room with more than two adults--if that. He spent his life in flight mode, and Halloween was no different.

Try explaining to a child with autism, typically very literal thinkers who have a difficult time with pretend play, the joy to be found in dressing in cumbersome costumes. Costumes that are hot and itchy and draw the attention of staring adults wanting to get close to you and scream in delight their delight. Why dress as someone else? Why dress as someTHING else? What is so fun about this?? For a child with autism, the holiday is sensory overload at its best with seemingly no purpose.

But that sensory aspect is so fun for the rest of us! And, clueless as ever, my husband and I dressed our son for his second Halloween as a lion with a big, fat, stuffed head. Gosh he was cute. Undiagnosed at the time, he participated in no part of the holiday and left us bewildered. It was as if he were running to get away from everything we tried to show him.

"Honey, look!" we'd say in an attempt to create interest. "Look at the flashing pumpkin! And the ghosts! Can't you hear the ghosts in the background?"

He heard them. And he wanted to get away from them. If he acted this way in his own family room, how were we expected to take him trick-or-treating? (Which, by the way, is an entirely appropriate activity for a two-year-old...right? :P)

Holidays are tough for familes like mine. They are all steeped in their traditions, and it is difficult to bend to the way things are always done when you have kids that don't think the same way society does. I've lost count of all the holidays we entered into a "celebration" knowing that our family was not going to last or even enjoy any of it. The effort to attend seemed so futile, and our frustration has been met with ill-will.

The fact is, when you have a child with special needs, life is going to force you to create your own "normal". It's a way of eeking out an existence within the world around you--and hopefully making that existence fun at the same time. I won't lie, extended family can have a difficult time with this.

Fortunately, life with autism is a process.

Once our son was diagnosed and we understood why he ran away from holidays, we attempted to make Halloween a little more sensory friendly for him. When he was young, people just weren't his thing, and so we didn't bother knocking on the doors of strange houses. Where is the fun in that?

We provide treats of our own, although he doesn't have a sweet tooth (how is that possible?). And, uncomfortable costumes have been replaced with costumes that fit like regular clothes. Each year, his tolerance for them increased along with his understanding that the rest of us think this is a whole lot of fun.

Today, he gets Halloween. For the most part, he just doesn't like it.

I am the Halloween fanatic with a son who could easily bypass the entire event. And, I know that I'm not alone, as I personally know many parents who sit at home with their spectrum kids on Halloween night, listening to the whoops of neighborhood children as they run from house to house enjoying all the holiday has to offer.

At this point, I'm not going down without a fight. There simply must be some way that we can meet in the middle...

This is how I found myself at a JoAnn Fabric store last week, a place as foreign to me as a football stadium. Thinking that perhaps I've been going about this the wrong way, I decided that my dressing him as a lion, vampire or skeleton really had no relevance. He has no interest in being a character out of Pokemon or Spiderman or Super Mario Brothers.

But maybe...just Dirt Devil lover would appreciate dressing as a vacuum cleaner! Maybe? Ok, maybe not, but, while it's a bit cumbersome it is still worth a shot!

So, what's our Halloween tradition? We visit our friends down the street who place vacuums around their house. Our older son enjoys vacuuming there for a while until it is about time to head to my in-law's house, where he'll continue to vacuum until he decides he's ready for bed. LOL! So far, we've been able to manage the differing interests of both kids, but I know that this could change as they grow older.

We are working with the circumstances we've been given, and hopefully everyone can get something good out of it.

Good Luck to all of my fellow special needs families out there! I hope you have a CALM, COMFORTABLE and PREDICTABLE Halloween with just the right amount of added fun!

1 comment:

  1. Can u please tell me how u made this? My cousin also has autism and wants to be a vacuum for Halloween. Could u please email me ASAP at