When a Hawaii mother took to social media to share her experience from last Halloween, she never anticipated the distance her message would travel.
In under two weeks, it has been shared more than 155,000 times.
“My son is three years old and has autism. He is nonverbal,” 30-year-old Omairis Taylor wrote on Facebook.
“Last year, houses (would) wait for him to say trick-or-treat in order for him to get a piece of candy, and there I go, explaining the situation for the next five blocks.”
Taylor, who is a Staff Sgt. with the U.S. Army, will take her son trick-or-treating this year with a blue jack-o-lantern candy bucket.
Her hope is that when homeowners see the brightly hued plastic pumpkins, they will offer up a side of patience with the sugary confections being doled out.
“After four or five houses, you could see him being stressed,” she said of last Halloween in an interview with Global News. “Getting overwhelmed with people waiting for him to say ‘Trick-or-treat’ … or getting close to him and being like, ‘Oh, what’s the magic word?'”
While the post was initially only intended to garner the attention of people in her immediate community, she has received messages from parents from far and wide.
Many have approached Taylor seeking advice for their own children.
“I’m like, ‘I’m not an expert, but you know what, we are in this together, so just message me whenever you need somebody to talk to.'”
Her son attends applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapy five days a week. She told Global News he has been making significant progress, even saying “mom” for the first time last month.
Global News approached Autism Canada for their position on the blue candy buckets last week.
In a statement they said they do not endorse the idea, adding that they believe “this practice singles out the child as being different.”
Dermot Cleary is chair of the board of directors with Autism Canada. He said they consulted a number of stakeholders across the country on the subject, and spoke to staff who are on the spectrum.
“This is not the ideal way to go about this Halloween experience, and the reason for that is that it does create an identification that may or may not be a positive thing for the child,” he explained.
Cleary offered a different approach.
“Perhaps put a small name tag just saying, ‘I may not be able to speak, but I’m in the Halloween spirit and trick-or-treat.’”
When asked about this, Taylor acknowledged the same approach won’t necessarily work for every child.
“Whatever you think is going to help your child, nobody’s going to love, protect or care about your child more than you. So if you think this is what your child needs, then hey, go ahead.”
In Toronto, Liz Phipps ordered a blue bucket for her son, who is also nonverbal. After she came across Taylor’s post, she shared it to her social media timeline.
“Having a 15-year-old son with autism, what Halloween means is a change of schedule and routine,” she said.
To prepare for Halloween, a social story was developed for her son Jack. That process began about a month prior to the big day.
“Social story will basically tell him, in very simple terms, step-by-step, what’s going to happen,” explained Phipps. “October 31. It’s Halloween. Jack comes home from school. He puts on a costume, grabs his bucket, walks out. We go to ten houses. Jack comes home, has candy.”
According to Autism Canada’s website, social stories are “simple descriptions of an everyday social situation, written from a child’s perspective.”
With assistance from an adult, they rehearse the story in advance of the event. That repetition helps guide them when it actually occurs.
She ordered her blue plastic bucket online, but a month later, has yet to receive it. Her daughter came up with a solution.
Phipps and her family plan on painting buckets blue and providing them to families who choose to use them.
“You can tell right away when someone opens the door, what their thoughts are and you’re so quickly trying to say, ‘He has autism. He doesn’t understand.’ He might not be able to say ‘Trick-or-treat.’ ‘Please, can you give him a piece of candy?’ And sometimes I walk away and I cry after that and brace myself for the next house.”
Vanessa Coens has been an employee of Autism Ontario for the past five years. She’s also a mother of three, and two of her little ones have autism.
“It is the family’s choice. We’re not taking a stance on saying (if) it’s bad (or) it’s good,” Coens said. “We want families to know that we empower them. They know the situation better than we do, and whatever they pick, we just want them to have an amazing Halloween.”
If anyone is interested in getting a hand-painted blue bucket from Phipps, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.