Real Talk About Autistic Halloween, from a REAL AUTISTIC

Now, I know this comes a bit late for some families with autistic children, but here it comes anyway. It’s an open secret that Halloween is tricky for many people on the spectrum. However, I have come to love Halloween just as much as any other holiday. I am autistic, so I’m going to pass on some tips that have helped my particular hue of the spectrum.  

  1. Let the autistic person choose the costume – early on. The anticipation and buildup were key in my case, and coming up with costume ideas that were either accepted or substituted for better ones was key to my preparation. I had, and still have, a vivid, active imagination, and could come up with a bevy of ideas. From an angel, to a medieval peasant (substituted for flapper later on), to a witch, I always had chosen my costume early on.  
  1. Don’t even mess with a mask. Growing up in the 1980s, the only masks available were those terrible plastic ones that left a line around the face because they were so small, and the breathing holes were barely there. “Was that even legal?” I thought half the time. So I never wore a mask. And the question of makeup? Well, that is an individual thing. Your kid knows if they can handle makeup. Let them help you with that answer. But, I digress. The point is, just don’t even mess with the mask. 
  1. Keep it Simple, Silly. One year, all I needed was a black sweater dress, tights and a witch’s hat. That was the costume. That was a modern (1980s) witch. Maybe the costume is a simple pun. One time, a sibling went dressed in black, with various (small!) pieces of clothing pinned to them. What were they? Static Cling. The point of this? Don’t stress too much. You’ll stress out your kid by accident! 
  1. Early celebration helps me. Nowadays, Halloween is stretched out to begin on midnight, September 30. Helping to plan the entire month actually helps autistic kids. If you won’t listen to us autistic people, listen to the parents who give dry runs for trick-or-treating.  
  1. Make sure the costume fits the rules of the party. Many times, I would go to a “Harvest Festival” or “Fun Zone” at the church I was attending at the time. I would have to go as something non-scary, which was no problem to me, because I could be a huge number of things. What a tragedy it would be for your autistic kid to be turned away from an event because their costume did not follow the pre-set rules! Honestly, who would want to relive that every Halloween?                                      
  1. Do not restrict movement! This was discussed a little bit in Tip 2, but restricting movement is horrifying to an autistic child, especially one that has suffered the abuse of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). If the movement is restricted, the child will be uncomfortable, and therefore will not want to participate. So, ask yourself a few questions with the costume you might be forcing on your child: 

-Can you sit in the costume? 

-Can you go to the bathroom in the costume? 

-Can you run from a creepy sex predator in the costume? 

  1. Do not force a child to do something they do not want to do. This is the most important rule, and the one which will give the child the most pleasant experience they can have. If the child does not want to wear the mask, do not force the mask on them. If the house is too scary with the decorations (or the barking dog), don’t force them to go up to it. If they do not want to go in the scary maze, do not go! Would you force your neurotypical child like this?  

I hope these tips can be helpful, even if they are delivered a little late.  

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Hollywood Autism: It Is Definitely Wrong

I have noticed that there are many stereotypes associated with autism, and I intend to knock every one of them down every single hour of my life if I have to. I have a list of these stereotypes, along with a response on each one of them.  These stereotypes are often applied to characters who are not canonically autistic (like Sherlock Holmes 2010 and Sheldon Cooper), so they get the diagnosis, too.

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Here are several stereotypes: 

Stereotype: Autism is a White Person’s Disease 

Almost every portrayal of autism is marred by the fact that it absolutely HAS to be portrayed by the people in power. As a result, most of them are white. This might lead most people to believe that autism is simply a consequence of something in white civilization. As a matter of fact, the only non-white portrayal of autism I knew of until I did a Wikipedia Search were of Billy Cranston, of the Power Rangers movie, and Isidore Latham of Chicago Med, of a Very Special character arc.  

Stereotype: Autism is Male Only 

This is shown in the disparity of male-to-female portrayals of autism. Of the 67 listed Film Characters listed as autistic, only 12 are female. Most people think that, due to the mostly male portrayals of autism, especially in more popular film and television shows, that autism is more male. As a matter of fact, there are women I have spoken with online who are still awaiting a paper diagnosis simply because they are female!  

Stereotype: Autism is Rain Man 

Now, Rain Man was a groundbreaking movie in its time. It brought awareness to a little-known diagnosis back in 1988. But we have moved beyond Rain Man. Autism diagnoses are being given out at a proper rate. People do not have to meet all the criteria of autism in order to get a diagnosis…or do they? More on that later. 

Stereotype: Autism is Savant Syndrome 

Now, this might be wishful thinking on the part of the parents, who want their children to be something more than the tragedy that people make difference out to be, but most autistic people I know have no savanthood. As a matter of fact, the most recent television portrayal, Freddie Highmore’s The Good Doctor, had to differentiate between autism and savant syndrome, to literally spell it out and drop a house on the viewing audience. This stereotype is common among the non-official portrayals, as seen in the Progenitors Section. 

Stereotype: Autism is a Lack of Empathy 

How many times do I have to tell people this? Just because they express something differently does not mean they have something more or less!!! Autistic people express themselves quite differently from others. It is a hallmark of the condition. Just because we aren’t born with a capacity to “read between the lines” when someone is talking, does not mean we cannot feel what others feel. If you want us to read between the lines, teach us! 

Stereotype: Autistic People are Cold and Uncaring 

Again, another stereotype that relies heavily on the fact that some things must be taught. If a person must be taught to be warm, why not see and teach them? (In the case of Rick Sanchez, I think he drinks because he cares so much for most members of his family.) This stereotype also goes to the parents, and in my own case, I can tell you it is wrong. My mother is one of the warmest people you will ever meet. She taught me how to be warm and expressive.  

Stereotype: Autistic People Can’t Communicate 

This is a folly on the part of most neurotypical people. Just because we communicate differently, does not mean we aren’t communicating. Far from it. The tugging of the autistic person on your shoulder? Communication. The stimming? Communcation they are uncomfortable. The refusal to go into a certain place? Communication. The crying? Communcation. The meltdown? Communcation. We are communicating; YOU ARE NOT LISTENING. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Are Violent 

This goes back to the meltdown that is imminent when a person is overstimulated. This can easily be avoided by simply asking the autistic person, “Are you okay? Do you need to go somewhere?” Or similar questions. They are simply trying to escape.  

Stereotype: Autistic People are Math Geniuses 

The stereotype that does not ring true with me at all. I am NOT a math genius. I need a calculator for the simplest of math problems. This is one I fell victim to my entire life. I thought I was stupid because I was not a human calculator. This also helped me realize that there are stereotypes in media portayals of autism. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Have Marilu Henner Memories 

Of WHAT, exactly? Just because we remember different things about events and people does not mean we remember everything. If I had a Marilu Henner Memory, I would be able to use it! 

Stereotype: Autistic People Have No Sense of Humor 

This is also something that can be taught. Get off your high horses and do it, people! I learned humor through my family, and I can wield it expertly. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Can Melt Down at the Drop of a Hat 

Again, not true. There are usually signs that the person is about to melt down. Are they stimming? Do they look uncomfortable? Have you asked them if they are okay? As a matter of fact, there is this really radical, out-there method of finding out if autistic person is okay. It goes like this: 

YOU: “Are you okay? Do you need help?” 

Most of us are verbal and will answer truthfully.  

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Now that I’ve hopefully cleared up some misconceptions about autism, are there any more I need to clear up? Tell me.  

A Little Smartphone Frustration

Sometimes, the smartphone can be really dumb. Here is a recent series of actions I did to attempt to get mine to work properly. 

  1. Turn on phone.
  2. Wait for home screen to show up. 
  3. Press ON button because screen went black. 
  4. See Turn OFF screen come up due to previous action. 
  5. Press around said screen to make it disappear.
  6. Enter PIN.
  7. Wait for screen to come up. 
  8. Press ON button because screen went black. 
  9. Open app I want to use. 
  10. Wait for app to come up. 
  11. Press ON button because screen went black. 
  12. Learn app is not responding. 
  13. Turn off app. 
  14. Turn off phone. 
  15. Turn on phone again. 
  16. Learn phone is not responding. 
  17. Turn off phone. 
  18. Take the battery out. 
  19. Place battery back in. 
  20. Turn phone on again. 
  21. Wait for open screen to come up. 
  22. Enter PIN. 
  23. Wait for home screen to come on. 
  24. Press ON button because screen went black. 
  25. Open app I want to use. 
  26. Learn it was a different app. 
  27. Turn to screen where I can close off other app(s).
  28. Close other apps. 
  29. Learn chosen app is not working. 
  30. Slam phone against my hand out of frustration, fearing I’ve broken it. 
  31. Learn app is finally working.  
  32. Use app. 

During all this, I am helping my mother grocery shop for some basic things we need. This involves taking a motorized scooter out a car and assembling it. It also involves going into the store. I could have had a meltdown, but something inside me kept me calm throughout the ordeal. Maybe it was the fact that I was in public and could be photographed by one of those “People of Walmart” photo jerks. But, somehow, it finally worked. If only I could have avoided this frustration.