I know the feeling. You’ve stocked up on candy for the little kids of your neighborhood and when the doorbell rings it’s a group of older teenagers laughing and joking and clearly out for candy and not the fun of Halloween. You give them candy, hoping it means they won’t toilet paper your house later, and hope the next visitor is a little kid.
The doorbell rings and it’s another big kid who barely is able to get out a “trick or treat.” You feel irritated, so you give them one piece of candy and shut the door on them because you’re upset.
It happens more than you might realize…and it’s something very hard for the parents of an older special needs child to see.
This past weekend I took my autistic son Eli to several trunk or treat events because he still gets as joyful about dressing up and saying “trick or treat” as every other year. However, with Eli 17-years-old now and almost as tall as dad, it’s obvious he’s not one of the “little” kids who are going around with their bags and plastic pumpkins asking for treats.
At one particular event, we were walking through the lines and I watched as the people handing out candy were giving 4-5 pieces of candy to the kids coming through the line. When Eli came over and said “trick or treat”, some of those same people flashed a negative facial expression and gave Eli one piece of candy.
One lady even made a point to dig through her bucket until she found one small mini Tootsie Roll that she slammed into Eli’s blue plastic pumpkin. She then shot me a nasty look to which I just smiled and moved Eli along because he doesn’t realize this woman was apparently disgusted by his presence.
Eli didn’t think she had put anything into his bucket and asked “she no have candy for me?” I reached in pulled out the Tootsie Roll and he said “ok” as he moved on.
You see, special needs children like Eli may look older, but that doesn’t mean that mentally they’re on the age level as their body. Eli still enjoys things that most 10 or 11-year-olds enjoy. Spongebob Squarepants videos. Educational video games. Wearing shorts in all kinds of weather. Calling dad on FaceTime at three in the morning to remind him that Luigi’s Mansion 3 comes out on Halloween.
For example, when we met John Goodman this weekend at Missouri State, all Eli could see was Sully from “Monsters, Inc.” and spent the weekend telling everyone “I meet Sully.” (And on a side note, Eli kept calling Mr. Goodman Sully…and Mr. Goodman didn’t correct Eli even once.)
Eli is not the only special needs child whose mental age isn’t anywhere near his chronological age. That means they get just as excited about Halloween as every other kid who is rushing to find the perfect costume. He was so pumped up to have found a costume of Toad from his beloved Mario Bros. games. He actually packed his suitcase to visit dad three days early because he knew he would be getting to trick or treat this weekend.
This Thursday, when the ghosts and pirates and baby sharks come to your door knocking for those sweet treats that make our area’s dental professionals slobber in anticipation of cavity filling appointments, realize the bigger one at your door might not be trying to just scam you out of some candy you intended for “the little kids.”
It might be a “little kid” in a super size package. You may not think they’re going to notice if you treat them differently than the other kids, but they are going to notice. They might not realize what you’re doing, but they’ll know you’re not interacting with them like you did the kids they saw going before them.
I promise you their parents are going to know.
So I would ask that when you see the larger-than-expected pirate or robot or Toad from Super Mario Bros. walking toward your door this Halloween, that you take a second and realize the motivation for the big kid trick or treating might be different than your assumptions. That second thought might help everyone have a happy Halloween.