Updated: Nov 2, 2021
By: Dr. Q
Keywords: Blue pumpkins, Halloween, Autism, Accommodation, Advocacy
What should you do if you see a child holding a dark blue bucket or pumpkin pail this Halloween?
Halloween is an exciting evening when kids dress in costumes and receive treats from neighbors. One way to make Halloween a fun time for all kids this year is to keep your eyes peeled for children carrying dark blue pumpkins instead of the expected orange. Recently, dark blue has become an increasingly popular color for plastic pumpkin candy pails, but it isn’t just for decoration.
Dark blue pumpkins and pumpkin pails signify that a child is on the autism spectrum. Families and guardians of children with autism may place a dark blue pumpkin on their porch, and children with autism might carry a dark blue pumpkin pail from house to house while trick-or-treating.
The blue pumpkin movement was not begun by any official organization but by advocates and families of children with autism promoting the practice on Facebook. Autism is a spectrum of diagnoses affecting the brain at different levels. Symptoms can include difficulty with social situations, obsessive interests, repetitive behavior, trouble showing emotions in their voice or on their face, and sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights.
The symptoms vary in type and intensity from person to person. Therefore, a night of trick-or-treating might be more scary than fun for those with more severe autism. As the Autism Society explains, a trick-or-treater with autism could find wearing a costume too uncomfortable. They might not be able to make eye contact or say “Thank you” or “Trick or treat!” They might also become overwhelmed by loud or bright Halloween decorations or shouting or screaming by trick-or-treaters and candy-givers. The blue pumpkin indicates that the child carrying it could become distressed by any number of these Halloween traditions.
Some parents and advocates discourage the use of blue pumpkins since they single out children with autism and suggest that they are “different” from the rest of society; one mom wrote, “Our society is becoming more aware of autism, more open to inclusion, and my son will benefit from it. But he also shouldn’t have to tell a stranger he is autistic to get some chocolate.”
Other advocates and parents of children with more intense symptoms support the use of blue pumpkin pails. They say that these blue pumpkins help raise awareness of autism. Since many people with severe autism still face rejection, judgment, and misunderstanding in everyday life, raising awareness and increasing education is vital. On Canada’s Prince Edward Island, the Autism Society of P.E.I. saw an increase in awareness after many people called them to ask questions after seeing the blue pumpkins. A conversation sparked by the blue pumpkins can lead to more conversations about understanding autism and creating greater structural support for those with autism.
Parents also say that the pumpkins help candy-givers be more accommodating to their children. For instance, if someone sees the blue pumpkin pail and knows what it means, they will not pressure the child to say “Trick or treat” or will understand why they are not wearing a costume. A welcoming reaction will create a greater feeling of ease in trick-or-treaters and allow them to continue having a good Halloween. This kind of inclusion in social events alongside peers is imperative for children with autism. Successfully participating in events like trick-or-treating gives children a better self-image and sense of confidence. Children can also practice vital skills like following social rules and making friends through trick-or-treating. Blue pumpkins may be a step towards achieving this goal.
If you are giving out candy this Halloween and spot a child carrying a dark blue pumpkin pail, there are accommodations you can implement to ensure that they have a good experience at your house.
Make sure the environment is safe and supportive. Turn down any booming music or bright lights. Pass on fun scares, such as a hand popping out of the candy bowl or the “scarecrow” holding the candy bowl coming to life. Keep your voice quiet and avoid shouting “Happy Halloween!”
Be accommodating towards children who don’t follow the “rules” of Halloween. If a child doesn’t say “Trick or treat,” give them the candy or treat anyway. Give candy or treats to children who are not in a costume or look older. If the child becomes overwhelmed and distressed, be kind and accommodating, and avoid using any judgmental or frustrated words or body language, such as clicking your tongue or urging them to “Hurry up.”
Provide alternative options. Start handing out candy during the daytime, which might be easier for those with autism. If a child can’t eat or doesn’t like a certain candy, let them choose another treat, such as a glow stick or small toy.
If you would like to signal to your neighbors that your house is friendly to children with autism, you can also opt to place a dark blue pumpkin on your own front porch!
After all, the goal of trick-or-treating and Halloween is to let kids have fun. Part of that means accommodating kids who struggle with sensory overload and verbal communication. Be aware that not all children with autism will carry a blue pumpkin, and even children without autism might suffer from anxiety or other issues that make Halloween a difficult night. This Halloween, be aware and open-minded. Do your best to ensure that all the children who visit your door leave with fun memories rather than scary ones.