Saturday, November 2, 2013

Halloween Aboard the Autism Spectrum Express

A few weeks back, I told you about a project I was working on to make this Halloween a super fantastic one for Sammie and our whole family.  Well, Halloween Night has come and gone and I thought I would share with you an update on our adventures in "Trick or Treating".

So here, for your viewing pleasure, is picture story of Sammie's first real Halloween.

The plan was seemingly simple:

  • Convince a few neighbours to distribute trains to Sammie instead of candy on Halloween night. 
  • Decorate a boat-load of trains and a make a special Halloween train table.
  • Identify exactly which houses were participating and drop off decorated trains for them to use.
  • Convince Sammie that trick or treating is actually loads of fun, and no where near as scary and overwhelming as it seems. 
  • Pick up trains. 
  • Head home and build Sammie's Super Spooky Halloween express. 
Easy right? ;)

We wrote 20 letters total and included self-addressed, stamped envelopes for the RSVP cards. Our neighbours were also given the option of calling us or emailing us to RSVP their participation.

Of the 20, we received 14 responses, with 10 confirming that they would be participating. Our neighbours were excited, many sending along little notes offering support and (in two cases) money to help us along the way!

While building the train table and decorating the trains was supposed to be the "easy" part, it proved to be a much bigger project than I anticipated. Approximately 10 hours to crafting "fun" went into creating the Spooky Express. Each train was hand painted and individually decorated. The train table itself included three foam Halloween structures (An Owl Tree/Graveyard scene, a Haunted House and a Roller "Ghoster"), some cobwebs, spiders, and glo-sticks to light it up.  With hundreds of pieces and individual stickers for each structure, the hours building these were anything but fun. But, when everything was said and done, they looked great.

Twas the night before Halloween and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring except for a FRANTIC MOM trying desperately to get everything done in time!

We snapped a picture of Sammie in his cow costume, and attached a note reminding each of our participating houses about Sammie's train project. Then, picture, note and train were stuffed into a candy bag and dropped off at the houses around our block.

Even Charlie was getting into the spirit of the whole thing!

Sammie had a VERY busy Halloween Day planned. First, we had to attend his very first school party.  He had an amazing time, running around, seeing the "spooky lights" in the Snoezelen room, and even doing some crafting. Again, we were reminded of just how lucky we are to have such an amazing school and teacher for him. Watching his proud face light up as we went from room to room was priceless.

After school (and a much needed Sammie-nap), we were off to our annual trick or treating tradition with our besties.  Sammie the cow, along with Charlize the pig (in her adorable stroller-barn) went from store to store collecting their holiday loot.  Sammie got to see his friends all dressed up, and was an absolute ROCKSTAR given the chaos and craziness of thousands of kids rushing the mall's store employees, grabbing for candy.  But, after about 20 minutes, he (and I!) had had ENOUGH!

It was FINALLY time to head home to get ready to build our train!

I was SO nervous. I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve. Would my neighbours remember? Had I gotten the right houses? Would Sammie be open-minded enough to go through with 10 houses? Heck, would he be open-minded enough to try it even once?

I chose to start with our two immediate neighbours so that Sammie would have some recognizable and friendly faces to begin the night with.

He was definitely hesitant at first- after all, who wouldn't be? Trick or treating is a bizarre concept at best. I can't imagine what it seems like for a 3 year old who can't quite understand the social game that surrounds it. And, despite his receptive skills exploding lately, it was impossible to gage just how much Sammie understood about what it was that was going on.

But, slowly and cautiously, holding Daddy's hand, Sammie climbed the steps up to our neighbours house. We rang the bell, and he collected his first train.

I would like to say that he was delighted, but that would be a stretch. He was definitely happy. Trains always make him happy. But he was confused.

He took the train, and held on to it as we made our way through the remaining houses.

Some of the houses were pretty scary. At that point, he asked for me to hold him.

But Sammie pushed through for the whole 10 houses like an absolute superstar! No tears, and hardly any resistance at all.

By the last house, it was definitely clear that Sammie understood what we were doing. He had a bucket full of trains and he was ready to put them all together! So we rushed back to our house, where we had set up the new train table in front of the window so that he (and our neighbours) could see it.

But, did he love it????

Suffice it say that I haven't seen him that excited in a LONG time! He jumped, he giggled, he laughed. And then he meticulously placed each of the 12 trains ( an extra one from his Mamelie and one from his Uncle) onto the tracks, and the train made its way across the table.

He played with it all the way until bedtime, and again the next morning. And in my heart of hearts, I truly believe that he now understands the spirit of Halloween.

(View from the outside, looking in)

And, even though it was WAY past her bedtime, even Charlie wanted to party with us all night!

More than commercialization and more than candy, Halloween is about gathering a community together and celebrating the one thing that connects us all: our children. It is about playing at being kids again, dressing up and watching with excitement as their little faces light up around us. It about watching ghouls and ghosts and gobblings, strangers before tonight, running together in groups and becoming fast friends in the darkness. It is about the joy that comes when one reaps the rewards of a job well done.

Yes, there are a lot of bad things you can say about Halloween. But none of those seem to apply right now.

Because, for one very special night, my son with very special needs was embraced by his community. They knew his face. They knew his name. They will remember him. They will look out for him. And they accepted him for who he is.

And that, my friends, is a Halloween Miracle. 



  1. Let me wipe away my tears so that I can try to put together a decent response.

    My dear Zita, I am so very happy that your neighbors embraced this project. I thought of you guys all day, hoping your night would hold all of the awesomeness you guys deserve. The pictures of Sam playing with his new train set bring tears of pure joy. I love that you were able to find a way to make this happen.

    Thank you for sharing. Love you guys!

  2. Wow Zita!! Just wow!! You have an amazing community of neighbours! What an amazing night for Sam! I've been waiting for pictures to pop up on my news feed of Sammie's night…. and I couldn't have been more happy and excited that it went better than expected!! I've said it before, but I'll say it again, Sam was born to the perfect parents, you guys are amazing, and he is so blessed to have been placed in your family!