some thoughts about blue pumpkins

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{image is a photo of Brooke on Halloween in 2004, at three, dressed as a clown. I can’t even handle the cuteness.}

Let’s talk blue pumpkins, my friends. Recently, a mom of an autistic toddler posted a plea:

“My son is 3 years old and has autism,” she wrote. “He is nonverbal. Last year houses will 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 5 blocks. This year we will be trying the BLUE BUCKET to signify he has autism. Please allow him (or anyone with a BLUE BUCKET) to enjoy this day and don’t worry I’ll still say TRICK OR TREAT for him, ill get my mom candy tax later 😁. This holiday is hard enough without any added stress. Thank you in advance.”

The blue bucket idea had been shared by Autism Speaks last year, but hadn’t gotten much traction at the time. This mom’s post went viral, however, and has since been picked up by various news outlets, landing on front pages and social media feeds far and wide. While I viscerally relate to her desire for a smooth, easy, and FUN holiday for her child, I’m hoping that we can all take a collective pause and think about this before running out and arming our kids – especially our really little kids – with blue pumpkins.

As you know, my strategy for parenting my autistic daughter is to always consider what the world looks like from her perspective. As a nautistic* person, that’s not always easy to do, but thankfully, there’s an amazing resource to help – #ActuallyAutistic people. So when something in my gut didn’t quite feel right about the blue pumpkins, I went searching for autistic voices to get their take on the topic. This is some of what I found:

Autistic on Wheels: Then there’s the massive visual target that marks someone out as potentially vulnerable (and many kids won’t want their neurology broadcast to the world without their explicit permission). There are better ways to go about this – if you *have* to do something to let people know the child is autistic, something more discreet, like a badge, is much better, or a card the child can choose to show people if they wish to.

Quirky. Stimmy. Cool.: Outing your child to people who live near you could be dangerous. It may also be something your child doesn’t want others to know. It’s best to educate your child and let them “out” themselves on their own time. Even if your child is ok with it, letting strangers know that you have a vulnerable child and live close by, can be dangerous. I understand that this is sad. And it stinks that we have to look at it this way. They may be your neighbors but not everyone is a good and safe person. Predators prey on autistics or disabled individuals. They do. And it’s something we as parents need to be aware of so we can make extra sure our kids stay safe. Especially in their own homes.

Autistic, Typing: We can argue about blue pumpkins ‘for autism’ all day (please don’t, it’s dangerous due to confusion with the Teal Pumpkin Project), but the “awareness” that really needs to get out is that people passing out candy have no right to demand that anyone speak or explain their private medical information.

Be decent humans.

If someone is trick or treating on Halloween, and you are passing out candy, give them candy. It’s not complicated unless you make it complicated. Yes, even if they’re tall, even if they “look too old”, even if they are wearing a winter coat and you can’t see their costume, even if they are wearing character pajamas, even if their costume is a cardboard box.

*

The autistic community appears to be pretty uniformly uncomfortable with the idea of announcing their young siblings’ diagnoses without context, and upon reading their rationale, I realized why my gut was telling me something felt off. Not to mention the whole Blue = Autism because Autism = Boys trope which only serves to erase girls and women like Brooke from the narrative entirely, or the fact that in the dark a blue pumpkin looks exactly like a teal one  and that ship has already sailed.

I know it’s not easy to face down ignorance and discrimination, especially on a day that is meant to be nothing but fun. In fact it sucks. As the mom of a sixteen year-old who had to have her Abby Cadabby costume custom-made this year, I assure you, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo. But I really, truly believe that if we follow the lead of my daughter’s adult brethren, we can help smooth the path for all of our kids without telegraphing their vulnerability or further stigmatizing and marginalizing those already struggling to be seen and accepted.

In Quirky Stimmy Cool’s post above, there are some fabulous cards that we can print for free. If you’re looking for a low-key way to clue in your neighbors, showing them a laminated card sounds like a pretty great plan.

All I’d add is that if you’re the one opening your door this Halloween, please open your mind along with it. Offer a smile and a piece or two of candy, and don’t worry about who can say what or who’s wearing what or who looks too old to be doing this. It just doesn’t matter. If they’re at your door, give them a treat and wish them a Happy Halloween. And if you happen to see an older teenager in a Sesame Street fairy-in-training costume, ask her to show you her wings.

*Nautistic is my daughter’s word for neurotypical or non-autistic folx. It’s pronounced NOT-tistic. 

6 thoughts on “some thoughts about blue pumpkins

  1. This is spot on, thank you for writing it! There are many people I know on the spectrum, including a handful of my students, and the concept blue pumpkin/blue bucket has been making me uncomfortable since the time that I first heard of it.

    Do you mind if I post a link to this post on my facebook page? I know several well-meaning people who would benefit from reading this, and I want the knowledge to go far and wide. I will only post if you grant permission to do so, and of course would give you the appropriate credit.

  2. So I read your stuff. And I love your stance on things BUT the one problem I’m having is my kiddo (almost 6) literally won’t play. He won’t do anything but play on the iPad jump around bang things. Now I’m totally fine with it however others have things to say. They say I need to be making him do other things. They gripe bc I have no routine at home. I will buy toys I think he might like and sit in the floor only for him to just ignore me and then get the iPad. He’s also intellectually delayed not just autism. So my question is if you are anti aba or really “training” these kids what do you do with zero play skills?

    • so we were told many years ago that brooke had zero functional play skills. i panicked. and i beat myself up for not ‘realizing’ that my child didn’t ‘know how to play.’

      the evidence? when given any toy, she did the same thing with it .. created lines.

      we’d give her magic markers in hopes that she’d draw and she would align them end to end, snapping them together to form long snaking lines across the floor. we’d give her legos and encourage her to build with them and she would line them up along the floor, creating .. long lines along the floor. if we gave her figurines, she would .. line them up along the floor. memory cards? lines along the floor.

      but here’s the thing .. she WAS playing. she was using the toys in a way that brought her comfort, but also in a way that helped ease her AT HER PACE .. into discovering their different uses.

      over the years, as she gained grip strength and the fine motor skills needed to draw without immediate fatigue and frustration, she began to open the markers and use them to create what she called Supers – these fabulous, loud, chaotic scribbles.

      Eventually, the lines of legos began to stand up and became towers that later, with some suggestion and guidance, became castles.

      After a while, the memory cards became a game too. but even then, it was always interspersed with making lines.

      we are trained to view play as functional or appropriate only when it looks neurotypical. but banging and stomping? that’s PLAY. playing on an ipad? certainly that’s play – and both are things that can be done together and expanded upon.

      have you ever banged stuff with your kiddo? i’ll bet it would be a ton of fun. you could get out a whole bunch of things to bang – different sizes and shapes of pots and pans and wooden spoons – comment on the sounds they make – on how the different ones sound and feel different when you bang em. how they make a different sound when you hit them with a different thing. it’s a great way to engage and to show him that you value the way that he’s discovering and interacting with the world – and also to have fun together, PLAYING.

      maybe that turns into a drum set or something differently tactile – brooke used to love sticking her hands in shaving cream on the kitchen counter and banging them down and watching the cream fly into the air was one of the best parts. it’s messy, but it washes off. or maybe he’d like to slap a pad full of water and watch it spring into the air. there are a ton of places to take it.

      for me, the biggest thing is continuing to offer and make available different options using their current joys and interests as a springboard. if your son is like brooke, he’ll continue to ignore or reject them until he doesn’t .. until he has gathered the skills or tools that he needed to be ready to try.

      what does he play with on the ipad? are there characters in the games? for brooke, that was a great way in. if she liked a character on screen, we’d find a toy of it and offer it up. if it’s letter games, get some magnetic letters and stick them on the fridge. etc. and don’t panic or be disappointed if he doesn’t pick up on it yet. he might just not be ready – or maybe it’s just not the right thing. either is fine.

      for us, getting down on the floor and doing what brooke was doing WITH her almost always provided a way in and from there we found ways .. over time and at her pace .. to expand outward and build on what she was doing. at the time, that pace felt glacial. and i was often at my wit’s end and convinced it would never happen. but even now, at nearly 17, she’s still circling back to things that we introduced at 6 or 7 and we thought she’d never have interest in.

      nick walker is an autistic adult with fabulous insight into this stuff. he specifically addresses play in the following video. it comes up early in the interview. i hope this helps!

    • also, just to be clear, i’m not against therapy or teaching our kids. i’m only against the school of thought which prizes indistinguishability over self actualization or focuses on changing behavior rather than respecting and discerning its purpose. 😉

      • Awesome thank you. So let me ask you this. For negative behaviors. Such as my little guy has zero boundaries. So if his little brother has fruit snacks he’ll walk up and take them. If I try and make him return them he will kick at me, pull hair or even scratch. He’s not aggressive all the time just for no reason but if you do something he doesn’t like or try and correct him he will sure getcha. So if not AbA for those types of things what do you do? Also he’s 75 pounds and 4 1/2 feet tall at 5 😳

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