Happy Halloween!

Halloween is a wonderful time of the year in South Texas. The temperatures start to shift and the days begin to cool down. It also is a visual time of change.

For the children in Room 623, Halloween begins on September 22, the first day of fall. The children were surprised this year with a 48 foot wiener dog with a black cat on its back all dressed up for Halloween in the hallway. That brought lots of smiles. Then, as the children entered the classroom, a big black spider crawled along the blackboard with Mike from Monsters Inc. lit up below.

As the children walked into the class, they became very excited with all the changes visible in the room. Not to be outdone by the Mike and the wiener dog, a spooky hand was on the teacher’s desk. As the students walked past the hand called out, “Happy Halloween” as it walked down into the bowl. Then a black bird in a nearby cage began to shout out “caw, caw.”

When October rolled around, the children came into a room full of big pumpkins ready to carve.

The older children became very excited when they saw the pumpkins. They loved the work that was before them. The oldest child always would get to pick out his pumpkin first. It was his very own pumpkin to weigh, measure and carve.

Peer tutors would help them clean out the pumpkin and count the hundreds of seeds within its core. Most of the children wanted happy faces carved on their pumpkins. There was always one or two mischievous students that would request a surprise or spooky looking face. To the teacher’s surprise, many of the children from the general education class had never carved a pumpkin before.

Each year, a few of the students in Room 623 refused to touch the pumpkin’s slimy orange “stuff”. For certain students touching the inside of a pumpkin is a sensory overload. It is very difficult to feel the wet smelly center of a pumpkin. Resistance to the experience is not unusual in the early grades in the room. After a few years, it no longer is an issue.

One of the favorite byproducts of the pumpkin is always its seeds. The children learned how to clean and place them into a bowl. After being washed and coated with lots of salt, they are placed into the oven. Soon the smell of roasting seeds fills the classroom.

The smile on the children’s faces while tasting the seeds is always fun. For some, the taste is nummy. For others, they refused to taste the seeds saying they smelled funny. Others, though somewhat afraid, bravely tasted a little piece of the cooked pumpkin seeds.

When Halloween finally arrived, the children came all dressed in their favorite costume. The teacher found that Halloween was a wonderful time for children to express their creativity and to address their fears in a healthy manner. Traditionally, Halloween is really a holy day known as All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day.

Children long ago dressed as holy people they wanted to emulate. Today, children dress in all sorts of ways which psychologically can be very healthy. In the teacher’s class, that included one princess, several spidermans, an ironman, a cowboy, a ghost buster, a cheerleader, a fairy, a poke man, and even a doctor. The teacher dressed as Raggedy Ann as she was partial to book characters.

The wonderful thing about holidays is it gives clear visuals to children on seasonal changes. For children with autism, it is a concrete example of what to expect. Halloween, Chanukah, Kwanza, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Passover, Ramadan and Independence Day are all key times of the year which visually can help a child better understand the calendar.

Time, while often abstract, can become more understandable with the traditional visuals that surround specific times of the year. Happy Halloween!

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at downpamg@aol.com.