Halloween + Sensory Processing Disorder = marriage in heaven.
It all depends on your perspective.
As Temple Grandin has said, it is likely all on the Autism Spectrum have some form of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). But did you know that some with SPD are not on the Autism Spectrum? There are many of us who have unique ways of interpreting sensory input. This includes yours truly (for the most part, I am a sensory-avoider). For many of us, the “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” approach to Halloween simply overwhelms.
Let’s take a little walk down October’s haunted path and see it through the eyes of someone who is a sensory-avoider.
We’ll start traveling back in time to when my daughter was younger. Shop with me at the party store late August – or the grocery store in September; this is the time of year decorations come up from the crypt. This is when pleas to stay home, away from the shops are heard (and granted). Live in my house during the last few weeks of October. By now, the images and sounds are cumulatively too much for her. Watch my kid try her best not to go to bed with nightmares. Listen to her mother quietly cry at her daughter’s pain.
My daughter is a sensory-avoider. Certain sounds physically hurt. Grotesque visuals taunt and overwhelm. It’s more than “not liking Halloween” and it has nothing to do with religion; it’s about a sensory processing system that is overloaded.
But there are others who are quite unlike my daughter. They seek out sticky cobwebs, dripping red ooze, and soundtracks that play haunting noises. In fact, they can’t get enough of them. For them, the louder, the better. These are your sensory-seekers. (And, no, not all sensory-seekers like this time of year.) The screeching sounds, eerie lighting, the chance to be something graphic and provoking – and all else that goes with it – are relished.
But for some on the Autism Spectrum, this time of year is nothing short of a nightmare come true.
The flickering lights in orange and purple, the echoing screams broadcast in stores and throughout our old neighborhood, and the gory imagery made my Aspie very uncomfortable. She became truly terrified. I recall how my daughter would shake. She’d cry. She’d cover her ears and eyes as she went aisle to aisle. As she participated in school parades, her eyes remained downcast, worried about what she would see.
I recall my autistic daughter asking why so many are so excited to celebrate things we are told to fight against: murder, death and gore.
And I have no answer.
And not everyone celebrates in this way. And I realize that.
It’s hard to put experiences of the kids who loathe this season into words if you don’t know anyone who feels this way, thinking in color, in images, often with a constant video stream running through the mind. For many visual people, excessive imagery and sounds really can be too much to bear. And unless you’ve experienced such, I’m not sure a handful of words from a mom with SPD can help you better understand, either.
To be clear, I’m not asking for a seismic shift in an old tradition. I’m asking for understanding for those who see the world from another perspective, who interpret it differently. Some kids want to participate. Some want to dress up. In fact, it’s one time of year kids with Asperger’s can dress as their Special Interest without being ridiculed. They can enjoy being who they want to be for a day without being picked on. Well, maybe. Kids (and even adults) can be cruel.
So as the 31st draws near, please keep the following in mind; if a kid stops by and seems overwhelmed, please, be sensitive. Not all kids like a plastic severed hand in the candy dish. Don’t make them go through sensory hoops, such as forcing them to take candy from said plastic severed hand just to get a sweet (that happened to my Aspie). Don’t add to the scare if they are already shaking. Show kindness and give them a treat. Smile at them, and compliment them on their costume, even if they don’t smile back. It just might give them the juice to knock on the door of the next house before they turn in for the night.
No, we may never understand each other, but we can choose to respect the different ways we interpret the physical world that surrounds us.
As a nod to those who are overwhelmed this time of year, there are no images associated with this post.