This morning, Freddy told me this is the first year Halloween means nothing to him. He's a sophomore now, and probably beyond the trick or treating age, or the dressing up age (although some kinds at his school still do, but it's mostly a 7th and 8th grade thing). As he was commenting on that, his older brother William said "Today is Halloween?" That brought it home. That age has passed for them. And that made me think about Janey, of course, who has no idea today is Halloween. Do I dress her up, although she doesn't much like being dressed up? Do I take her trick-or-treating, although that has scared her the past few years when I tried it? Do I give her candy, although chocolate past noon makes her stay up all night long?
A great new blog about a family starting their journey with autism talked about this issue---give it a read here. It's a tough decision. It addresses one of the issues that isn't unique to families with autistic kids---how much of what we do with kids is driven by our own needs to recreate parts of our childhood we loved, or to try to fix parts of our childhood that were imperfect? It's impossible, I think, not to do that at all, but in the case of autism, it's more problematic. Dressing Janey up or taking her out in the dark to go to people's houses decorated with scary spiders and skeletons puts her in a situation she doesn't understand at all, and one that might totally terrify and confuse her. Thinking of it that way, it seems like a no-brainer. But there's that part of me that says "But Halloween is such a special time! I want Janey to be a part of it!" Which in her case, of course, means I want to be a part of it, because she won't be, not in a meaningful way. I want to recreate that feeling from childhood of how it was to have one night where all the rules were suspended---where you could go to random houses, ring their doorbells and get candy. I remember counting the days, and when I woke on Halloween morning, feeling truthfully more excited than Christmas morning. I remember my fantasies of someday living in a suburb or city, where I could get to a lot more houses than you could in my rural town, where you had to be driven to trick-or-treat. And I did live that dream, with the boys, for a few years, before they were old enough to go out on their own.
Autism changes a lot of things in a family. In the scheme of things, missing out on recreating childhood memories is a very small, selfish thing to be thinking about. But I do.