Last year was J’s last year as a trick-or-treater. It was kind of a rough realization, at least for me, because after all the years of J struggling with Halloween (because of his autism), all of those years to try to get him to learn all of the social rules and nuances of going to a stranger’s house and saying a random, empty phrase (who ever does a trick for their candy?–and since when is it socially acceptable for a kid to demand candy from a stranger?), all those years of learning that some strangers will let you pick out of the bowl and others will think you’re rude if you do. All of those years of learning that the dog at the door won’t maul you to death, AND FINALLY SUCCEEDING ON ALL FRONTS he was done. Just as J was starting to really enjoy trick-or-treating.
Yes, I could have let him go door to door this year. Yes, I know that there are kids his age that still do. But as parents we thought that transitioning into high school was a good time to transition out of trick-or-treating. Transitioning through different stages of life is something every person on this planet has to go through, neurotypical or not. And here’s the really cool part. That next stage of transition can be really fun too.
Last Saturday, our church had a trunk or treat and Halloween party, which was the PERFECT way for J to transition into this new, teenage stage of Halloween. Kids and teens have a quick go around collecting candy from people’s cars–which is perfect because it’s socially acceptable AND people know J and that J has autism. Then, everyone went inside for Halloween games. J even participated in the donut eating contest.
Monday night was Halloween and even though J knew he wasn’t going out, I wasn’t 100% sure we weren’t going to have a meltdown over it. Which would have broken my heart, because as a mom, I hate the fact that my kids are growing up and getting too old for things like trick-or-treating. We told J that his new job was to go to the door and give out candy and a light flashed in his eyes, because he initially processed that as, “I’m going to the door to get candy”–as in trick-or-treating. When we realized he misunderstood what we said, we re-explained it to him–that he would be staying home with us to give out candy, he didn’t have a meltdown after all. He just accepted his new responsibility and went with it. (He’s come SO far with that).
I’m no expert parent, but one lesson I’ve learned over the years–at least with autism, is the importance of “replacement.” “Replacement” is really helpful, because of totally eliminating something, you switch it out for something else instead. We’ve done it loads of times before, replacing some quirky behaviour or obsession with a more acceptable one. Expectations, routine, and predictability can stay as intact as they possibly can, and you just swap out something good with something good. So I went to Walmart and got a prepackaged Halloween sugar cookie decorating set (I don’t have time for homemade stuff at this point in my life) and instead of sitting around waiting for people to come by (we only had 14 trick-or-treaters come by!), J was doing something productive and fun during the time he would have been going door to door. And he was totally okay with that. In fact, he thought it was pretty fun to make cookies and steal a few chocolate bars out of the Halloween bowl every once in a while.
I’m so glad that this transition was a good experience for him. To be honest, I was a little afraid that it might not be–but the kid has been surprising me lately. I think the harder part is coming from my end–it’s hard to see him grow up, it’s hard to see him not do the childhood things he’s finally learned to enjoy and I have to keep those thoughts and feelings to myself, because if he sees me having a hard time with it, then he’ll DEFINITELY have a hard time with it. So I tell him how proud I am of him being an awesome, mature high school teenager and I cry a little inside because he’s growing up in all sorts of great ways.