Every year around this time, as we loom close to Halloween, I’m reminded of an incident that happened many moons ago. In actuality, it was 26 years ago when my son Bobby was six years old. For some people, I may sound a bit naïve, or even contrary to what others saw so vividly. I think, however, to moms whose children consume the same special needs attributes as my son Bobby, I will sound very much in line with them.
The following story is taken from a book I’ve written titled, Mom, Bobby, Autism, A Love Story, and it tells of my first true awakening of Bobby’s autistic behavior, and how it began to affect his world.
The year was 1990, and the town where we lived always went overboard in decorating for the fall season and all of its holidays. Our houses in the downtown area were no exception, and we played our part as well, aglow with pumpkins and lights contributing to the decor of the season. Bobby looked adorable in his Incredible Hulk costume, and we were astonished at the fact he seemed excited.
Prior to this year, he had never really shown much of an interest. I had gotten the children special trick or treat bags, and their father and Uncle Mike instilled their lifelong motto of trick-or-treating until you drop. Bound with an exuberant amount of energy, the ghoulish group of five trotted off into the night lit up by all the orange and black decorated houses.
The sidewalks were jammed with costumed children fast walking with parents trailing behind. The air was cold and ripe for little trick-or-treaters fast walking, working up a cold sweat of excitement as they approached each house and watched their bags fill with candy.
There is a sequence to trick-or-treating that goes unnoticed as it plays out by most children in a natural manner. The scenario goes as follows; ring the doorbell as you step to the side allowing the door to open, say trick or treat as you open your bag, lastly say thank you as the bag closes. Notice that this is a three-step sequence. This was the first time Bobby’s significant disability became so noticeable.
House after house, he was unable to perform the pattern of trick or treating. He would yell trick or treat before he ever rang the bell. Then there would be other times he would ring the bell, and stand in front of the door so the people could not open it. When they would open the door he would scream, thank you, and run away. Time after time his father would coach him as they would approach the house on the three step pattern, ring bell, open bag, yell trick or treat. Bobby would go up to the door, he would ring the bell, and from that point on it was anyone’s guess.
The saddest part of the evening was when they all came home to empty their bags of trick or treat candy. First, the oldest sister emptied her bag and watched with excitement as the candy tumbled out from the darkened recess of its layers of sugary treats. With giggles, the second sister turned over her bag and with wide-eyed glee saw a waterfall of sweets make a spiral descent into the bowl.
Halloween could not have been sweeter to these exhausted trick or treaters as they were examining their sweet candy haul. Then it was Bobby’s turn, the girls suspended their howling long enough to prepare the bowl for their brothers added candy. Carefully they padded down the mound of candy which by now had almost reached the rim of the largest mixing bowl in the cabinet, and with a greedy gleam in their eyes, they began to rally around Bobby inciting him to add his nightly loot to the pile.
As if standing in the midst of Willy Wonka’s candy factory, or just watching the result of an overwrought children’s sugar high, the excitement level was high as Bobby opened his bag. And then the room fell, from a noise level of 100 to the drastic drop of zero. For an instant the air seemed to suck out of the room as silence along with smiles took a nose dive. The accumulated goodies from the nights trolling of trick or treating were gone! There was nothing in the bag, it was empty.
Poor Bobby, acting like a magician he quickly closed and re-opened it; as if the candy would magically reappear. Only, as he held it open, all that was there was a huge hole. The bags had handles that allowed the body to hang, and apparently, Bobby’s had rubbed along the sidewalk and wore a hole in the bottom without anyone noticing. Luckily in our home, Halloween candy becomes community property and is placed in one large bowl.
The sad realization had come to how Bobby’s disability began to affect his world. At six years old most children, or at least our other children, would have cried when that happened. Bobby never showed any emotion, not sad, or mad. He just looked into his bag at that big hole in the bottom and with those puppy dog eyes back up at me. For a few moments we just stared at one another, and then he just closed the bag. Hugging him up, I could feel my self-starting to cry. “Bobby, next time, well, next time,” before finishing my sentence, I noticed he had abandoned the Halloween bag.
He turned his fascination to a Jack-O-Lantern flashlight and turning it on and off. Squatting down on the floor to be level with my little green Incredible Hulk. I noticed his painted face had lost its original luster it held earlier in the day, and doing what my usual custom with Bobby, nuzzling my nose in the back of his ear. Tonight though his mass of golden locks had hardened due to the green paint put in earlier for the aesthetic purpose of matching his costume.
Finishing my sentence, “next time will get a plastic pumpkin head to carry the candy. They never get holes.” He never really acknowledged me, the flashlight had captured his full attention. He took that Jack-O-Lantern flashlight to bed that night and slept with it till the batteries ran out, and it turned black. I tried to make a mental note to buy new batteries for the flashlight in the morning, so he could play with it a few more days. Getting into bed that night I had a funny thought, if only new batteries could put the light back into his beautiful little eyes.
Today at the age of 32, Bobby loves Halloween. He belongs to an adult with long-term disability day group he goes to once a week, and every year they have a Halloween party. Each year I take him to buy his costume, and he takes great precision and time in choosing just the right one. After the party and Halloween are over, it still takes him a few days before he is ready to part with all of the festivity lights and décors.
I guess some things never change.