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Ghosts, Goblins and Autists

Once again another Halloween has snuck up on us. I love the season with all the spicy smells and warm colors, but I never was a big fan of Halloween, I'm not that creative when it comes to making costumes. I dislike it even more now that we are a family coping with our daughter's autism. Not because of her, but because of the 'big' kids. You know who I mean: the adults.

Two years ago my daughter, Ashli-Meghan, only wanted to be Eeyore for Halloween. Her Eeyore doll comes with us everywhere and experiences life with us. Thanks to the Internet and in spite of my empty right brain, I managed to eek out an Eeyore costume. Mine didn't look a whole lot like the pattern, but it was good enough for Ashi and she is the Eeyore expert. Last year, however, Eeyore was sick with 'ammonia'. So Ashi, was persuaded to be Cinderella instead.

Thanks to Wal-Mart's costumes in a bag, Ashi was magically transformed into Cinderella. I never could have created something so beautiful for $19.99. I did get to arrange her long hair in a gorgeous updo, smear on some shiny, lipstick and dab some powder- blue on her eyelids. She was stunning. The real Cinderella would have been jealous.

It was the perfect Halloween evening. The temperature crept down just enough to need a snuggly jacket. It was a clear sky. The moon was an enormous, ball of orange lurking over our buzzing neighborhood. Proud moms and dads watched their little ghouls perform the same ritualistic 'trick-or-treat' routine they had long ago out-grown. Parents and kids crunched through leaves, catching up on the latest news and comparing candy. It was hauntingly delightful.

Our new son, Izaiah, just 13 days old, slept like the dead in his stroller, completely unaware of all the spooks around him. Our little 'Cinderella' danced and trick-or-treated until the clock struck 8:30pm. With a container full of goodies, Cinderella was ready to turn in her pumpkin, lose her tennies, and call it a night.


Now, let's go back and add in all the little details so you can know what Halloween is like for an Autistic family. We start at the beginning of September, because that is when I start warning my daughter that Halloween will be coming the following month. Each day I ask her, "do you want to dress up in a costume?" and "who would you like to be this year for Halloween?" The answer is always this, "I just want to be me, my name is Ashi." Typically, I can talk her into dressing up, but last year, she would not be persuaded until the day before Halloween. By that time, the only costume left in her size was Cinderella. I assured her that since Eeyore had 'ammonia', he would love for her to be Cinderella. She reluctantly agreed.

So, naturally the Cinderella costume turned out to be itchy, scratchy material, (it was satin) so we put clothes on underneath. We didn't wear the 'glass' slippers. She doesn't 'get' walking in shoes that don't have straps. Then there's the debate about the hair and makeup. Oh Bats! Would we ever make it out?

Now, when we go to a house every other day of the year, we ring the doorbell and go in. So, naturally this is what Ashi plans to do each time we go to a door for Halloween. I remind Ashi (at every house) to ring the doorbell. I remind her (at every house) to say 'trick-or-treat'. And I remind her (at each house) that we're not going inside. Last year she actually darted into one of those houses and made herself right at home. She wasn't coming out for anything! She was there for a visit. Her hosts were dumbfounded and I literally had to go in to bring her out myself. Very embarrassing for mom who was frazzled by that point. All this, and Ashi won't even eat candy anyway.
See, this holiday has no purpose for her. And this is why I don't like Halloween anymore. The 'big' kids don't bend the rules enough. Ashli-Meghan loves who she is and doesn't want to pretend to be anyone else. She doesn't want to ring your door just to bum candy off you. What she really wants is to talk to you. She likes to tell each neighbor about dinosaurs, bugs, lizards and snakes. She likes to talk about their life cycles and how they communicate with one another. She likes to share odd facts and ask questions she knows the bewildered neighbor cannot answer. She doesn't ask because she wants to hear the answer, she asks because she wants to tell you the answer. She can go on and on and on.

Unfortunately, the other little vampires, pirates and ghosts line up impatiently waiting for their treats to be plunked into their bags. What's worse is that their parents look on with scrunched up faces, and worse still, the home owner doesn't play along and just hurries to close the door. Instead of appreciating a little six-year-old who can recite anything from the Encylcopedia, the 'big kids' are ironically annoyed by a child who is not dressed up, who doesn't say trick-or-treat, who doesn't care if you have Snickers or Reeses, and doesn't just want to selfishly grab her candy and run. She only wants to be your friend.

So, 'big kids', lets not judge the child who may come in a costume that looks like it didn't take enough effort. And if a child doesn't properly say 'trick-or-treat', try not to think their behavior rude. And keep in mind that a kid who tries to dash into your home may not be able to separate what we normally do from just something we do one night. Most likely mom and dad are watching close by, exhausted from caring for a special needs child. Adding to their pain are the hundreds of 'typical' children all around them trick-or-treating 'correctly' while watching their own child struggle. Mom could be close to tears, and your acceptance could be just what she needed that day. Even though my autistic daughter doesn't know what she's missing, I do, and that can be hard.

This year, Ashli-Meghan is adamant that she will not wear a costume. I just want to be me. My name is Ashi. I'm proud of her for having such a backbone. So, she has agreed to hand out candy to the kids instead. Sometimes autists makes more sense anyway. Haven't we been teaching these kids not to take candy from strangers? Ashi gets it.

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