(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.