Sunday, October 10, 2010

Changlings and Shapeshifters and Ghouls-Oh My: Adventures in OZ

This is a repost from October 2009. With Halloween just around the corner I thought it might be relevant to understand that not every holiday is for every child and that it is just fine, not withstanding some idiots who seem to think otherwise. Read the abuse heaped upon some other bloggers who openly told how their special needs children do not celebrate Halloween in a typical manner. (here, here). Sometimes just when I think society has started to grow-up it never fails to amaze me just how far we still have to go.
I have been hinting for several weeks about discussing our issues with Halloween. I know I have been sidetracked because of the many adventures of Collegeman and Highschoolboy and I apologize. Anyway here goes the wonderful reminiscences of my years of trick-or-treating. I have to tell you that my favorite picture in the whole world is the one I referenced in the earlier post Changing Your Dreams: Life With an Autistic Child. It's the one where collegeman and highschoolboy are still really little. Highschoolboy was even still in diapers. He was dressed as his favorite character in the whole world, Winnie-the-Pooh and Collegeman was superman. I love this picture for the total parental reason that they look so cute and adorable. But if you look really close, what you can also see is a look of unsureness on highschoolboy's face. He seems to be saying to himself "I am not to sure about this costume thing." Now highschoolboy had not been diagnosed yet, so as much as we were aware, unfortunately it wasn't until much later that we picked up all the signals.

Highschoolboy had always been terrified of clowns. Not just the child afraid of the scary looking man with the balloons, but a down right terrifying Nightmare on Elm Street kind of fear. If a clown showed up at a party highschoolboy had to leave. If a clown showed up at pre-school he could not go to the assembly. I had been assured by the pediatrician that alot of children are afraid of clowns. So I thought nothing of it. It wasn't until recently that a person I follow on twitter who has aspergers explained to me that it was a very common fear among autistic children. The distortion of the facial features is very confusing. Who knew, another misheggas (nonsense) that our children get to deal with.

But what I had not figured out at the time of that Halloween picture is that absolute fear that this holiday engendered in my son. It was not the ghosts and goblins. He knew like any child that they were not really real. He knows that Dorothy doesn't travel to OZ and that the Wizard is not a real person. (However, we do know that the Wicked Witch of the West exists, we just can't melt her with water.) But he really believed that when people put on masks and costumes they transformed, shape-shifted like a changeling, into those ghouls for the day. He thought that there was some magical power that the "Halloween Aura" had over the masks so that people's personalities were transformed  into those monsters or characters. So every year when he went trick-or-treating and put on a costume, he would make sure to only wear part of the costume, or no costume at all. We have pictures from several years worth of Halloweens and in each one he is very hesitant and looked frightened. Again we thought nothing of it-made excuses, like he had an ear infection or was coming down with a cold. He never ever said anything. Just thought it was a kid thing, you know a little more intense than the average child, but that is highschoolboy.

Finally he admitted (sometime during the middle of elementary school) that he was afraid and did not want to trick-or-treat. We assured him that he did not have to. It wasn't a requirement of being an American kid. Well, I can't tell you the relief he had that year. I felt so bad that here for all these years we had made this child do something that really terrified him because we thought he was having fun. I tell you guilt has a way of creeping right into that little nugget called your brain and wrenching you inside out and upside down. What a mommy-moron I had been. Still beat myself up over this one. (Can you tell?)  I had thought I was on top of things. Boy did I learn the hard way to pay better attention to the signals my kids give off.

Now over the years, once we understood the issues, we informed the schools to be on the lookout for him getting upset. They have more than obliged. They made extra sure to watch him and keep him happy. There were even a few times that I kept him home if there was going to be a Halloween party at school. I guess that shows just how afraid he was. A kid giving up candy and cupcakes and a party in school. What we did do at home, however, was for him to help give out the candy. He actually really likes that. He didn't have to wear a costume and he got to participate in the holiday.

I have to tell everyone though, the anxiety this holiday causes him has not really gone away. I still have to remind him that kids will be wearing costumes to school for Halloween and that if he gets upset to go to the nurse. He assures me that he is OK now. That he can handle the confusion. I guess maybe that is a large part of it too.The rules are thrown out and kids behave badly. Nothing is what he is used to and change and a lack of order are not somethings that makes him happy. Hopefully he understands what happens on Halloween. That today there will be hijinks and silliness. That some rules will be broken. That masks don't turn you into the undead. Maybe those are the rules for Halloween he has learned to follow. So he is more comfortable with the holiday today.

Luckily the school where highschoolboy attends does not broker too much nonsense. So he will not feel so overwhelmed. It also happens to be one of his lighter class schedule days today. So everything will be easier. I know however, that in the back of his head he is like Dorothy knowing that for safety and security  "there is no place like home."

For some really good ideas on how to have a modified and happy Halloween, read this post by Shannon Des Roches Rosa at The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism.
Until next time,