Monday, November 1, 2010

Tricks-or-Treat Is Not a Walk in the Park

The way our son looked forward to trick-or-treating this year reminded me of Linus’ anticipation of the Great Pumpkin. Though, perhaps I just had Peanuts on my mind since Kai would be going as Charlie Brown.

We had told Kai that, in our community, tricks-or-treat would start at 3 PM. Now, when it comes to time, Kai is very precise. So, as we were driving home from his special needs’ sports camp yesterday afternoon, as the clock in the car turned to 2:00, he gave us notice that it was “one hour until trick-or-treating starts.” At 2:15, he gave us the 45 minute warning.

As 3 o’clock drew nearer, Kai’s excitement grew. We knew that there would be no stopping him from being on his way at 3:00 sharp, so we made sure to snap a few pictures before then. Sure enough, as soon as the clock struck three, we were off and running. And, at the first several houses we went to, everyone commented that “Charlie Brown” was the first trick-or-treater.

At each house, my wife and I stayed back toward the street while Kai went up to the door and rang the bell. Sometimes – more than a few times – he forgot to say “trick-or-treat” and we had to remind him to do so at the next stop. Other times – more than a few times – he did not say “thank you” and we had to remind him to do so at the next stop.

I had to remind myself that for a boy with autism who has difficulty socializing, going up to strangers’ houses by himself, ringing their bell, and saying “trick or treat” is not something that comes naturally or easily. With all the progress that Kai has made, we sometimes forget that he still struggles with basic conversation skills. I had to tell myself to be patient as we reminded him for the fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh time to say “thank you.”

There were also times when friendly folks would speak to “Charlie Brown” or ask a simple question and Kai would not respond. Part of me wanted to explain to them, “He’s not being unfriendly; he has autism and doesn’t have the ability to answer you.” But, instead, I would either answer for him or just give a simple “thank you.”

After trick-or-treating down several blocks, Kai wanted to go back home. By then, we had gone to more houses than on any previous Halloween and I think all the interaction with people was draining for him. At home, we snacked and played for a while and then he wanted to go back out. But, he didn’t want to go trick-or-treating anymore. Rather, he and I walked about a mile to his new favorite park while Mom prepared dinner. We stayed there until it got dark and then walked home.

Over dinner, we watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and then Kai took all the candy he had received and put them into a jack-o-lantern piñata. He loved pounding on it until it broke open. Then, we sorted the candy into two piles: one was gluten-free/casein-free candy that he could have, and the other was for Mom and Dad. He enjoyed going through his pile and picked out a couple to eat. I think his favorite was the gummy set of teeth.

In the Peanuts TV special, Charlie Brown ends up with a bag full of rocks and the Great Pumpkin never comes. I wish I could get inside Kai’s head to find out if trick-or-treating lived up to his anticipation, or felt kind of like a bag of rocks. I have a feeling that, for him, just going to the park was as much fun and less stressful as the trick-or-treating.

Still, when we compare this Halloween to the past, we see how far that Kai has come. It was only two years ago that he only went to three houses and we had no expectations that he would say anything to anyone. Now, he’s going all around the neighborhood and raised the bar on our expectations about his communication. For us, that’s as good as a visit by the Great Pumpkin himself.

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