The Difference Between Disability and Rudeness, on a Halloween in NZ (Part Two).

(Continued from Part One.)

The night before Halloween, my son and I decided to give it a second chance, and headed off for a quick evening shop for Halloween supplies. We managed to piece together a wizard outfit from a witch’s hat and a vampire cloak (which lead to some interesting questions from him about what a vampire was); there wasn’t much left to choose from. I also picked up a squishy pumpkin decoration for our own front door, to let the local children know they were welcome to knock.

The night arrived. I talked my son through the rules about how to knock. He wanted detailed rules about when he could ring the door-bell, how many times he could knock, and whether he could both ring and knock. He also wanted to know the precise number of seconds we had to wait at each door before moving on; initially he suggested 10 seconds. I said that would be fine. Then he suggested “perhaps 20?” I said probably too long. “Perhaps 15?” (This went on for a while).

We discussed where he could knock; what to look out for to help make the right decision: Not to go houses that had signs out telling people to stay away, and could knock at houses which had out Halloween decorations. He wanted to know if we could knock on every door in the neighbourhood regardless of decorations, I told him that might be rude because they may have sleeping babies or don’t like the noise or are busy or don’t like Halloween. He understood that. (None of the other kids – or parents – in the neighbourhood seemed to consider this, which I’ll come back to.)

We also went through general manners (taking one candy unless they say otherwise, saying thank you).

We were ready.

(The string that tied the cape together, broke off the moment I went to put it on him, but a safety-pin later we were ready again!)

I scouted the entire street – both sides all the way up and back – for a single house that had out Halloween decorations. Our house was the only one in the entire street. Yet while my son and I walked up and down the street figuring this sad fact out, we saw scores of children (some with their parents) knocking on every single door and asking for candy.

I reconsidered my rule about only knocking on certain doors, but it was my son who refused that plan even though it would have likely meant more candy: He told me of his own accord that he didn’t want to be rude. My autistic seven-year old deciding being polite was more important than getting more candy; seeing all these other adults and children being rude as he understood it, yet refusing to do the same because he didn’t want to bother or upset people in our neighbourhood. I felt more than a touch of pride at that, and resolved to stick to our plan; whatever it took.

What it took was getting in the car and driving around the surrounding residential streets. My son and I played look-out for any houses with decorations out, and when we spotted one I’d quickly (but safely!) pull over and we’d put his wizard’s hat back on and unwrap his overly-long safety-pinned cape, get his Halloween bag out and make our way to each welcoming place. Because we were being so selective, every home we visited was over-joyed to see us (and ready with the candy of course). There was no knocking then waiting anxiously for no one to be home or to be rejected, it was an 100% success rate (well, almost 100% to be honest; we got the wrong house once down a multi-use drive-way, and I felt the resultant disappointment of no candy and guilt of disturbing the household. I was glad it only happened once).

We found about one house per street, but there was a lot of fun in trying to spot the houses with decorations, and a fair bit of excitement knowing each time that we would be wanted and welcomed. By the time I called it a night, his lolly bag wasn’t over-flowing, but it was sufficiently full of chocolates and candy to be called a success in that regard too.

I had been worried about the sweets he’d get that I wouldn’t want him to get, and about him eating too many sweets in one sitting. But he didn’t want about half of the lollies anyway (the overly chewy and overly hard ones). And he was happy to have the lollies over days instead of minutes. He even shared the unwanted sweets (and some of the wanted ones) with his parents.

So what came of our mutual first-ever Halloween? Lessons in polite social interactions, with thank yous and holiday-appropriate greetings; the chance to feel part of an event celebrated by other children his age; increased confidence in going new places and talking to new people. But perhaps most amusingly and ironic of all, my son got the chance to think about and put into practice non-rude behaviour.

The autistic child with the social and communication and sensory challenges, was the sweetest kid on the street that Halloween.

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16 Responses to The Difference Between Disability and Rudeness, on a Halloween in NZ (Part Two).

  1. Hilary says:

    What a wonderful story. My son never wanted to do Halloween (and my mother was one of those who disapproved) but now he is an adult he likes to be the dispenser of the treats, and does it very seriously and fairly. However, we didn’t get anyone knocking on the door this year. I didn’t know about the door sign, so we might try that next year.

    • It’s the problem I think with NZ being so new to Halloween really; we’re still figuring out how to make it work and what to do! I read on a Trademe forum the other day that a woman sent around leaflets to all her neighbourhood letterboxes asking people to put out a balloon if they were welcoming treat-or-treaters. I think that’s an interesting idea, it does take out a lot of guesswork, but I don’t think it needs to be so regimented. Any halloween decoration outside a house is a good sign that people are welcome, but the majority seems to ignore that notion anyway. It will be interesting to see if there are more people getting involved in Halloween next year.

      Thanks for your comment :)

      • Sunshine says:

        Yeeeah, our rule is “If you decorated your house for halloween, um, what were you thinking. We’ll wait till you get home with candy.” …maybe Americans ARE rude… ;)

  2. nostromo says:

    I really really like this story, made my cruddy day a lot better, well done that little man in his Wizards hat and cape, you were polite, you got some treats, and you made nostromo smile to boot :-)

  3. Bonnie says:

    It’s so interesting to me to read about the Halloween tradition in New Zealand. I’m so used to how it is here in the US, it doesn’t even occur to me to wonder how or whether its done elsewhere. I’m so glad it was a good experience for your son. My boys like it too – not for the candy, they just love running up to houses and getting to peek inside!

  4. Bec Oakley says:

    Yay! This was such a sweet story (no pun intended… okay maybe just the one). Halloween is definitely picking up in Australia but we’ve never joined in because it seems to freak out the boys too much. I’m really glad to hear it was successful for you!

  5. Wife of Jack says:

    This is the first year our son was vaguely aware of Halloween, he noticed a few children in costumes as we were driving around and I talked to him about why they were in costume and what the name for the day was. He had been invited to street party by some parents of friends of his, unfortunately for family reasons we could not go. I regret not being able to include him in this but I had thought he might find it a bit scary and intimidating. Apparently I was wrong, he was quite interested! Anyway I dodged any disappointment for him by explaining that Halloween was for big kids from school. He seemed happy with that. So my husband and I decided we had better get our stories straight, what are our Halloween rules for the future? Growing up in Australia, my parents hated Halloween and we were not allowed to go trick or treating, so I have some confusion about what I feel as a parent.

    So our rules are: adult organised events are fine, friend’s house parties are fine, no repulsive horror movies until late adolescence, costumes are fine but not with violent themes, and the main and quickly decided point was … DON’T ANNOY OTHER PEOPLE. This rules out trawling the streets without adult supervision to beg at random houses who might not even be aware that it’s Halloween. This also rules out the “trick” part of the process which was the main annoyance for my Father when I was a child. It was the disrespectful demanding of sweets that he found so unappealing. Anyway my husband and I seemed to be on exactly the same page for this issue. Which makes life easy!

  6. Wife of Jack says:

    A gap in the market, clock costumes! My son could dress up as a recycling bin, but alas I’m sure they are also quite hard to make or purchase. I’m glad your son had a lovely time, he will remember it for a long time I’m sure.

  7. Mac says:

    You have an amazing son :)

    In the US, we use porch lights. The ones with their lights on are handing out candy and the ones with the lights off are not.

    • Interesting, that’s the first I’ve heard of that system. It wouldn’t work here unfortunately since porch lights aren’t in abundance, and regardless it is Spring here so the sun is still up during the trick-or-treating time. NZ needs to come up with something similar I think.

      And thank you for the kind words about my son, he is indeed a very special little man :)

  8. YEAH!! I love this!! It’s so very much a perfect example of why I LOVE Halloween! It’s such a great time to teach so many social skills–though not all of my boys have been nearly as successfully kind and polite as yours!

    I’m Canadian and when I was growing-up Halloween was one of the more popular and participated events of the year. One of my favorite memories is going with my four little autistic brothers, all dressed as grouch-kateers, and seeing their thrilled and surprised faces at every single house! Dar (who was very very challenged at the time) would carry his pillowcase and stim and jump and pluck leaves and take forever to actually get candy, but everyone was wonderfully patient and interested in his behavior, mostly in a curious and kind way.

    My own kids have never seen that kind of participation at Halloween. We live in small town Texas where many people see the holiday as ‘evil’ and such, so we used to drive, like you did! We would talk about the different ideas and opinions and how everyone has a right to feel their own way about the holiday. We would get giddy and goofy with excitement when discovering homes that were decorated and thrilled to see us! Now that my boys are older we walk, even though it’s often four or five blocks to the next house, but I enjoy being out at night and smiling at the odd group of trick-or-treaters we meet along the way. The night is always fun and filled with learning’s….. and candy!

    Thank-you soooooo much for sharing your trick-or-treating experience!! Your rug-rat is adorable and lucky to have a mom who gets such joy out of celebrating him!!!!

    It sounds like your ‘wizard’ has mastered the magic of Halloween!

    • That is so interesting, to hear you have done much the same as us in a place with is not too happy about Halloween (though apparently unhappy for very different reasons). And what a lovely comment you ended on there, I love that final sentence :)

  9. suburp says:

    I was really not sure about Halloween this year because my son has a big anxiety problem with Zombies (only Zombies.we are reading a book about folklore and mythical monsters at the moment and he copes well with the rather gruesome stories..but even cartoonish zombie icecream packages disturb and distress him. and zombies are everywhere now..) so we talked about it early and often and he opted out. He had gone once in the past though and did like it, so I asked him repeatedly if he had changed his mind, and was kind of hoping he had (for the social experience) and kind of hoped he didn’t (for the other side of the social experience..). I am not so keen on it for the typical reasons of an imported ‘tradition’ (i know it’s celtic, but now it’s all plastic and gory supermarket bought masks. American) In the end, I put a sign out in the driveway greeting the tricksters but asking them NOT to door-knock (we also have 3 dogs..it’s complicated) – and I put a bucket with candy, because I didn’t want to be a partypooper for the little ones! We heard only one group but I think there were more, but in the estate, someone had distributed a flyer with times and asking people to respect and not knock on houses that did not have decoration or porch light on. I thought that was really good. We are only renting here, but are planning to stay in the house, and I think if it’s only low key like that, we might go out a-spookin’ a little next year..
    (i didn’t know that ‘indecisive children’ were a big issue at Halloween, have seen these memes this year too, i like it. i do not like parents that do not explain their kids how to do the door knocking in a way that is actually fun for everyone….)

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