Next Step Therapy Blog: Halloween and Empathy

Tracy 1Tracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article: Halloween and Empathy.

Welcome to my world. Where I have opinions, and I write a blog, but have to suspend my opinions and seek empathy. I try to remember that opinion is really the lowest form of knowledge as there is no accountability or understanding involved. However, empathy requires us to suspend our ego and attempt to walk in the shoes of somebody else.

I have realized, due to age, life, and experience, that any two human beings living in the same era, in the same relative location, do not experience the same things. I have not had a miscarriage. My friends have. I don’t have to have had the same experience to know that this experience alters their emotions and their life.

Likewise, while I have made jokes over the years that I should have been born with testicles – leading to better business experiences, I have truly never felt the urge to surgically convert myself to a man. But, the fact that I, personally, have never felt those urges, does not mean that I can’t understand that other people do.

In this blog, I encourage tolerance. I encourage empathy. I encourage people to step out of their comfort zone, their life experience, and imagine what their life would be like had things taken one small left turn.

What if your child was Autistic? What if your son believed with his whole heart, from the time he was three, that he was supposed to be a girl? What do you do when everything you have ever known since you were a kid, everything you were ever taught by family, church, and school, turned out to be in opposition to the real, hands on life you are living now?

Many, many parents in this world are raising children who fifty years ago wouldn’t have survived. Thanks to helicopter ambulances, and NICU units, along with ventilators and feeding tubes, children survive today that wouldn’t have previously. But, those kids present handicaps and challenges that NOTHING prepares you for.

If you have a “normal,” healthy kid, you should give thanks daily for that. But, just because you got lucky, doesn’t mean that you get to rule out/forget about everybody else that has a different experience.

So, Halloween. A tradition. A family fun night. A community experience. A ritual. Decorations and spooky music and kids dressed up and people with candy. How lovely. How special.

For most kids, Halloween is a rite of passage, a fun night once a year to dress up and load up with candy. But, for some kids, Halloween presents a challenge. Most of us parents just slap a costume on a kid and walk them around the neighborhood for two hours. No big deal. But, for parents of special needs kids, where virtually nothing is easy, Halloween is fraught with issues.

Right now, there are parents out there agonizing over whether to take their child Trick or Treating. They WANT their child to have the same experiences that the other kids do, but they also know that this could turn into a situation where their child is terrified in public. These parents are debating – is it more important to let the child have the experience and try it, or is it more important to keep the child on an even keel?

Parents of children on the Autism spectrum, in particular, are already preparing their children for this night. They explain repeatedly what will happen, what the protocol is, and how they are expected to behave. They may watch videos or movies about Trick or Treat, so that the child can “see” it. They may have the child dress in their costume and practice.

I’ve written articles about the necessity of parents with special needs kids making good decisions about what their children can and cannot yet do. I stick by that advice. However, kids learn by experience, and there is no way that they can learn how to behave in a restaurant if they never go to one. Likewise, Halloween, especially because it only occurs once a year, probably needs to be experienced to fully comprehend it.

I share the following; because I could not have said it better myself:

“With Halloween upon us, please keep in mind that a lot of little people will be visiting your home. Be accepting. The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy may have poor fine motor skills. The child who takes forever to pick a piece of candy may have motor planning issues. They child who does not say trick or treat or thank you may be non-verbal. The child who looks disappointed when they see your bowl may have allergies. The child who isn’t wearing a costume may have a sensory issue or autism. Be nice. Be patient. It is everyone’s Halloween.

Empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, even though you haven’t had the same experience. It requires imagination. This year, when that little one stands at your door forever, way more interested in what is in your house than the job at hand (taking a piece of candy), and doesn’t say thank you, let’s remember that that child could just as easily have been yours, or your grandchild, or your sibling when you were growing up. There is a very real chance that the child is receiving two or three therapies weekly, and that their parents have spent weeks helping them to get ready for this night. Kindness….so simple, so easy, and yet, so hard to come by in this world. Happy Halloween to everyone!


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