Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Trick or Treating with an Autistic Child

So, I'm done asking the question "is he really..." I'm done answering it to. People ask me, almost constantly, "Since he has been diagnosed with 22q deletion, is he *really* autistic?" The quick answer is: We don't know. He could outgrow the tendencies he is showing, he could learn to control certain behaviors and sensory issues. We don't know. But, my child has been, for the time, diagnosed with autism. And, he responds very well to the therapy and techniques that are used with autistic children.

The thing about "autism" is that it is almost purely diagnosed based on a set of behaviors. It is not like an illness where certain germs can be tested for, or like an ailment where physical abnormalities like swelling etc can be seen. It is a list of behaviors and mindsets. And my son has those behaviors and mindsets. He is autistic.

I just wanted to get that out of the way, because I know that I'm going to get some flack from family members for "labeling" Jonah as autistic in this post. But I am coming to terms with this label, and I hope that other family members and friends do too, so that they can begin learning what Jonah needs from us in varying situations..... like trick or treating.
Trick or treat with a typical two year old can be challenging. The sugar high, dealing with strangers, seeing scary costumes, fatigue from having to walk. Multiply these times a thousand for an autistic child.

I still decided to "test the waters" and see how he would react to a situation like trick or treat. Halloween is a holiday when I see children running around, having a good time. I want my son to have a good time too, even if the good time is a different kind of good time then the other children. I wanted to see what parts of the holiday he could handle, and what parts we will need to look out for.

We've been prepping for the day since about the first of October. I've been showing him costume catalogs, talking to him about playing dress up and make believe, going down the halloween section at the store and showing him various items.

Most of our preparations have been simply talking to him. Telling him about the special day, when we say "Trick or treat!" at our friends' houses, and they give us something yummy. We watched Dora's halloween episode, and all throughout we talked about costumes and trick or treat and saying thank you.

We wore his costume around the house, making it a normal part of our day. He actually chose the costume completely on his own (I know in a previous post, I had said that I wanted him to be a lion, but it worked out that it's the costume he wanted!) He didn't like to wear the hood most of the time, but that's okay. I can't say that I would be too thrilled with it either.

On Halloween day, we practiced saying "Trick or treat!" all day long, as well as "please" and "thank you." His trick or treat sounded more like "Get go get!" but he was saying it nonetheless.

We went out into my parents' neighborhood and I described to him everything he was seeing. "Look at all of the people wearing COSTUMES, bugsy! Look, a little girl dressed as a fairy!" and "ooh, look at that guy. He has a mask. His face is behind that mask!" I really tried to stress that everyone was just wearing a costume.

Going to people's doors was interesting. He never said trick or treat, despite having been saying it all day. He said thank you once, and at one door demanded "chockeet!" at which point I decided we had done enough. He was really confused about why we were just knocking on people's doors, greeting them, and then leaving. It upset him quite a bit that we were not going into the house to visit the person. It helped a lot when the people handing out candy were simply sitting on their porch, or in some cases they came out to the sidewalks to meet us. This helped with the confusion of not going inside after the neighbors answered the door.

Actual trick or treating was not so bad. He had minimal melt downs, and the only sign that he showed of being overwhelmed by all of the people was that he stopped talking and started signing more rather than vocalizing. When I began begging him to say thank you, he would get melty on me, look away and revert to his "noodle legs" and then I'd remember that I can't really force him to say anything to a stranger.

I think it helped a lot that I took the kids to a neighborhood where I knew the people. It was where I grew up. They were my childhood neighbors. I think it really helped Jonah see that I was being friendly with them, chatting with them, they knew my name etc. It wasn't just a stranger, it was one of mommy's friends.

I think in the future, if we keep things in mind like his sudden tendency to not talk around strangers and keeping costumes simple, and something familiar to him, and if we keep his time limit in mind, Jonah will really enjoy trick or treat in the future!

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