This is your friendly yearly reminder not to be a jerk to children on Halloween. I know, I know. Nobody sets out to be the Halloween grinch. But even so, every single November first, I see another parent post in my social media groups about the trauma their child—usually a child with invisible special needs– had to endure on Halloween because some adult decided to be an asshole.
This will be my first Halloween as a mom of three trick-or-treaters, I am so damn excited. My kids are eight, five, and almost two, and it’s going to be so much fun for all three of them now that they’re finally old enough to enjoy trick-or-treating.
But I’m as nervous about Halloween as I am excited.
I’ve got three kids, but only one is likely to have a terrible experience with a grumpy, demanding Halloween mood-killer.
My oldest son is almost nine, and he is a rule-follower to the nth degree. He will politely wait his turn in the yard while other kids knock on the door. When it’s his turn, he will ring the bell, step back to allow room for the door to open, and smile while cheerfully declaring, “Trick or treat!” He will choose one piece from the bowl, express true gratitude and happily move onto the next house. He will be the model trick-or-treater.
My baby will have literally no idea what she’s doing, but when you’re a tiny baby girl dressed like a swan or a princess or a chubby little squirrel and you toddle up to a door and say, “Pwease canny?” nobody cares if you follow the rules. She might not say “trick or treat!” but she will giggle and wiggle her way into everyone’s heart, as little bitty baby trick-or-treaters are wont to do.
It’s my middle child that is a bit of a Halloween wild card.
He is five. He’s the smartest kid I’ve ever met, and he is a delicious little snuggle nugget. He puts himself to bed when he’s tired, whether it’s bedtime or not. When he gets home from school, he adorably calls to our Great Pyrenees puppy to he can hug his “fluffy baby.” You never have to ask him to share. If he has candy, his baby sister has candy, too. If he takes the last apple and his brother is disappointed, he will ask me to cut it into slices so they can both have some.
You’ve never met a kid more generous or sweet than my baby.
He’s also autistic. On a regular day, he’s totally laid-back and he does fine. Once in a while he needs a little extra help or time, but he is learning how to communicate more effectively with language every single day. He’s in a general education classroom. My boy has worked so hard his whole life to learn the things that are important to him, and he is truly a living sunbeam. I adore him.
Halloween is not a regular day. On Halloween, there are flashing lights, loud noises, scary costumes and lots and lots of people. My boy will do okay. He loves Halloween, and wants to go out to collect candy with his siblings.
But it’s very unlikely that he will remember all the little rules.
He’s not likely to cry out or flap his hands or do any of the other things that people who don’t know much about autism expect to see. He will more likely default to almost silence. He almost certainly will not speak at every door. Not to say trick-or-treat or thank you. The combination of being five and being autistic will make impulse control a challenge. He might try to grab more than one piece of candy, or push ahead in line. He might get overwhelmed and stand stock-still, not reaching for any candy at all. There’s a chance he will cover his ears or his eyes.
We will be right there with him to remind him of his manners.
My husband even arranged with a friend of ours to go trick-or-treating in their large neighborhood so we can use their golf cart, and our son will have a place to retreat or take a break when he needs it. We will try our best to help him understand what’s expected of him. But we won’t spend the entire night scolding him and forcing him to try to act more like his neurotypical peers. He’s a little boy—he deserves to have fun without trying to blend in so some cranky adults will be nice to him.
He will be working hard to participate, but his very best effort might not look like a neurotypical child’s best effort.
If he comes across one of those miserable adults who refuses to lower the candy bowl until they hear “the magic word,” or scolds children who forget to say thank you, or asks kids stupid things like, “Cat got your tongue?” when they refuse to engage in a conversation about their costume, he will be confused, frustrated and disappointed. He is already mustering up all his courage and patience to participate. This kind of night is both fun and deeply exhausting for neurodivergent kids. If all he can do is smile and hold his bag open, that shouldn’t offend anyone. He’s just a little kid.
The odds are good that if everyone knew he was autistic, they’d extend him a little grace. But why should my kid have to announce his neurology to get a mini candy bar or a sticker on a night when everyone is supposed to be having fun? Isn’t it the job of the adults in the situation to educate themselves and extend that Halloween fun to every little one?
Chances are some of the trick-or-treaters you encounter this Halloween will be neurodivergent.
You won’t be able to tell by looking at them. My kid looks like any other five-year-old, but his brain is a little different, even if you can’t see it. Autism, ADHD and other types of neurological differences don’t have a “look.”Autism, ADHD and other types of neurological differences don’t have a “look.”
Please don’t refuse to give candy to kids who don’t say trick-or-treat. Don’t scold kids who act a little too eager, or a little too shy. Don’t demand that they say thank you. Just don’t be a freaking stickler on a night that’s supposed to be fun.
Kids who look “normal” to you might have a very different idea of how normal looks and feels. Their comfortable normal isn’t the same as your idea of normal, but it’s just as valid and acceptable.
And to be honest, all kids are excited AF on Halloween, so even completely neurotypical kids might just get excited and totally forget their manners.
Who even cares? It’s one night. Just give all the kids who knock on your door treats and don’t make demands. Give candy to the babies, the polite rule-followers, the teenagers, and the wild cards like my boy who might do something totally unexpected. Costume or no costume. Hell, give candy to adults if they have the balls to knock. It’s called FUN. Either commit to making this silly night fun for everyone who shows up at your door, or turn your porch light off and keep your grouchy fun-hating ass in the house.