When I first reached out to the West Island community to find out about the experience of parents of and children with Autism and the Blue Pumpkin initiative, I thought I was doing a good thing.
But as I investigated further, and spoke with more people directly affected by it, I realized the Blue Pumpkin initiative may do more harm than the good it seeks to achieve.
The initiative, which grew in popularity in 2018, aims to raise awareness for trick-or-treaters who may be non-verbal and therefore unable to say “trick-or-treat” or “thank you”. Three years ago, Alicia Plumer took to social media to share a photo of her son holding a blue Halloween pumpkin.
“If you see someone who appears to be an adult dressed up to trick-or-treat this year carrying this blue bucket, he’s our son! His name is BJ & he is autistic. While he has the body of a 21-year-old, he loves Halloween, […] Please help us keep his spirit alive & happy. So, when you see the blue bucket share a piece of candy. Spread awareness! These precious people are not ‘too big’ to trick or treat.” (SOURCE)
The post gained significant traction and support from the Autistic and surrounding communities. Some large retailers such as Target in the US now even carry blue pumpkins in support.
But some people with Autism and parents of people with Autism in the community are urging fellow citizens to be cautious about what a movement like this implies, and the harm it can cause on the very people it aims to protect.
I had the opportunity to sit down with a local mom whose son was diagnosed with Autism over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and who will be celebrating his first Halloween since his diagnosis this year.
"I have mixed feelings about it. I get what it's trying to do, but I certainly won't be sending my son out with a blue pumpkin on Halloween."
- West Island mom
One argument against the Blue Pumpkin Initiative is that rather than promote inclusivity, it actually isolates children and people with Autism.
"Kids don't get it. Can you imagine a group of kids all carrying orange pumpkins, but my child is carrying a blue one? Kids can be mean, and they'll single him out."
Furthermore, there is simply no guarantee that every home on the block will know what a blue pumpkin signifies. As much as advocates are speaking out, and blue pumpkins are becoming readily available and talked about, a person with Autism or parent of a person with Autism can't know for sure that every household will know what to do when faced with a child carrying a blue pumpkin. Perhaps the child does not have Autism and instead just really likes the color blue.
Lastly, this West Island mom, who has spent the last year of her life dedicated to raising awareness and de-stigmatizing her son's Autism diagnosis wants to be the voice for her child. Not a blue pumpkin.
"Lots of kids are shy on Halloween and don't say 'trick-or-treat'. Parents of neurotypical children have no trouble walking their kids up to the door, encouraging them to say 'trick-or-treat' to no avail and subsequently saying 'thank-you' on their child's behalf. My child is no different, and I will gladly be his voice whenever he needs me."
- West Island Mom
The fact of the matter is, every child that comes to your door this Halloween - neurotypical or not - has different needs and limitations. If you see a blue pumpkin on your front step, know what it could mean. But if a child is not carrying a blue pumpkin, don't assume they are "just like every other kid."
Head into this Halloween with kindness and consideration for the experience of others. Whether a bucket is blue or orange, what really matters is the sweetness inside.