Holidays sometimes need to be altered in our house. With a non-verbal six-year-old on the Autism spectrum, certain traditions aren’t held to the highest standards. Gift opening, dinner times, and blowing out birthday candles find themselves as more of voluntary activities. They get done, but if Lucas is not in the mood to sit or participate, we don’t make him.
Halloween might have been the biggest adjustment. It goes against almost everything my son stands for. He hates wearing masks. Doesn’t care much about pumpkins. Plus, he seriously dislikes the thought that he might have to go back inside once he’s made his way into the wide open world. So walking up to doors becomes a battle and it has to be repeated every few feet. Even bite size KitKats aren’t enough to sway his unease at leaving his iPad and wagon behind.
To be blunt, Lucas is pretty much the Grinch of Halloween. If there was pumpkin spice roast beast, he’d steal it.
There are some aspects that still work for him though. Just like his sister, he still gets dressed up in various costumes. Usually without a mask, his fake cotton muscles act as cushions while he lounges in his trademark Radio Flyer Wagon and leisurely munches hand-delivered M&Ms along the way. It’s his evening of decadence.
In an act that always leaves me beaming with pride, Olivia asks each house for extra candy to give to her brother. Here’s the amazing part – she gives it to him. All of it. All he needs is two people with giant leaves fanning him on each side and his night is made. People constantly walk past us and remark.
Quite a ride he has there.
I smile in a way that doesn’t give away the fact that my arm is about to fall off as I continue pulling him along his journey.
This is Lucas’s Halloween today. We’re used to it now, but it took a while. Initially, we tried to make him do a “proper” Trick-or-Treat. After all, candy-begging is serious business. Everything is serious business when you have a baby. The major moments you’re waiting for are all from the book and missing them can create anxiety. We couldn’t allow him to not take part in this major tradition. So, the first year that he was able to physically put one foot in front of the other, my wife and I took him by the hand and walked him to the first door.
Lucas dug his heels in and, as little skid marks in the lawn followed behind, was delivered to the door of his first house. As he cried, collapsing to the stoop in a fit, we painted on smiles to the astonished bowl-holder and said, “Trick or treat!”
The cries grew louder as we watched the candy tumble into his plastic pumpkin and the man quickly close the door. We had never worked so hard to earn a mini-Twix in our lives. The next few times we tried, he had the same response. Skid-marked lawn, cries of agony, candy-plop. After what felt like nine hours, we had taken him to three houses.
It wasn’t until Lucas made his way back to the wagon that he really got into the Halloween Spirit. It makes sense when you think about it. He loves being outside and getting tugged along from street to street at dusk is right up his alley. It was unlike anything he usually gets to do. Most days, he wants to be outside. Now he gets to be for hours at a time…and eat like a little pig as he rolls through the suburbs.
That whole time, our determination to make sure he had a good Halloween had been based on our own preconceived notions of what a good Halloween should be. To us, it meant running from house to house, saying the magic words, and collecting treats. To Lucas, it meant a different thing altogether. It was about wagon rides and stuffing his face to exhaustion. It’s pretty much the exact thing he was doing already.
Every initial parental instinct you have, though, is to try to fight against that. For young parents, new to a special needs child, there’s a frustration in not being able to do things in a way that you believe is “the right way”. You find yourself pushing your child to partake in traditions they want no part of, slow down your other children, who want to continue on, and taint the whole event in the process.
Once you realize that days like this are for the kids, you need to take a moment and realize that means all kids – on or off the Autism spectrum. No child should spend holidays miserable. There’s nothing “normal” about that.
The only normal is what you make it. No one is keeping a checklist of who goes to what house or who opens what gifts or who finds what Easter eggs. When someone asks about Lucas’s Halloween, all they ask is if he had fun. Once I took the time to notice what he wanted to do, rather than what he wasn’t doing, it became that. Now, every year when someone asks, I can say yes. He had fun.
Just because someone doesn’t like birthday cake doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy their birthday. It might not be the holiday you envisioned, but nothing ever is. It’s not about making sure everyone does everything you think they’re supposed to do. It’s about making sure everyone has a great time. As long as you do that, your holidays will always be happy.