The holidays can be a nightmare for people and parents dealing with autism. For parents, we hope this will be the year our children will eat the same thing as everybody else at the Thanksgiving table. We pray our children will sit — and if we are really lucky — look at the camera for a family Christmas photo.
We beg our children to wear the adorable suit and tie or frilly pastel colored dress for church on Easter Sunday. We wish our children would enjoy the excitement of the holidays rather than get sensory overloaded and become so anxious that most of our holiday celebrations are cut short. As the parent of an 8-year-old with autism, I get it. Every year I feel the same way about holidays and every year I find myself dreading them more and more… except for one.
Think about it. Halloween is the one holiday where “fitting in” is actually discouraged. It’s the one holiday when standing out and being as different as humanly possible results in positive praise and feedback. And it’s the one holiday where I can make my child’s obsession with odd objects (such as fire alarms and microwaves) something people actually pay attention to in a tangible way.
I remember when my son was four years old and his obsession was microwaves. I remember him expressing how he wanted to be a microwave for Halloween and I remember thinking “Dear Lord, no. People are going to make fun of you. Don’t you want to be something more ‘normal’ like everybody else?”
But my mind was quickly changed when — after a cardboard box and some silver spray paint later — my son actually got to see his passion come to life. And better yet, he got to share that passion with everybody else. Dressed like a microwave, my son could beep like a microwave, talk about microwaves, and flap with excitement about microwaves — and every single person loved it.
Since that first Halloween four years ago, it has become the one holiday where I feel like my son can openly express his interests, and the odder they are, the more excitement they generate from others. From a microwave, to a deck, to a fire alarm, to a tornado, and this year a haunted house, my friends and family actually wait to hear and see with excitement what Grandy’s current obsession is and how I can bring it to life for others to see. It definitely hasn’t been easy and every year I wonder how I will pull it off, but somehow I do, and the results are nothing short of magical.
So for autism parents, I get that the holidays can be hard. And I understand that Halloween may just be another holiday you dread trying to celebrate with others, but I encourage you to try and look at it in a different light. Don’t celebrate Halloween because everybody else is; celebrate it because your child is what everybody else is not — and on Halloween day, that is perfectly “normal.”