Monday, October 22, 2012

On not wanting your child with special needs to look younger than his age


The Lightning McQueen costume arrived in the mail Friday, sent by HalloweenCostumes.com. It was super-cute—that face! Those wheels! That cap! I knew Max would be out of his head with joy when he saw it.

I just a hard time deciding to let him get it.

It all started in September, when we were in a shoe store. Max spied a pair of Lightning McQueen sneakers and instantly fell in love. But they were toddler size. I promised him I'd try to get them on the computer when we got home. As it turns out, hardly any store still carried ones in Max's size.

It was one of those little rude awakenings: most other kids Max's age are no longer into Lightning McQueen.

Finally, I found a pair in his size at Disney. I hesitated, for the same reason I didn't get Max those purple Crocs one summer: I don't want him to stand out from other kids. I don't want him to look babyish. The stuff he does at home that's immature for his age, like watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, is one thing. But going public is another; Max needs all the help he can get fitting in with other kids.

Still, I bought the sneakers, and he'll be getting them for his birthday in December.

And then, he told me he wanted to be Lightning McQueen for Halloween. (Again.) He nodded, grinned gleefully and said "YES! YES! YES!" when I showed the outfit to him on HalloweenCostumes.com. The boy wearing it in the picture looked to be about 7.

Once again, I was torn between a car and a hard place.

We've come a long way. Years ago, Max didn't want to get dressed up at all on Halloween. We let him go around our neighborhood in ordinary clothes (something that made one killjoy email me to say was rude, boring and showed a lack of spirit). In recent years, Max has gotten into Halloween. He keeps telling me that he wants to eat all the candy, which is interesting because he usually doesn't have any interest in the stuff. I suspect he's plotting to torment Sabrina, who's quite the candy hoarder.

But a Lightning McQueen costume on a boy who's almost 10? Again, I had to repress that part of me that's fiercely protective of Max, the part that doesn't want kids staring or snickering. I had to squelch the part of me that says this is what Max "should" be into at this age, and accept the reality of what he is into.

I had to let Max be Max. Or, rather, let Max be Lightning McQueen.

And so, he will be roaming our neighborhood in one glorious Lightning McQueen costume next week (along with his beloved purple bucket). And I will be there, too, watching the other kids watch him...but mostly enjoying Max have the time of his life.

37 comments:

  1. I can understand. My daughter will be 10 in a few days and she still loves Disney princess, girly girl dresses. The problem is trying to find them.

    I figured it took her so long to get to that point of participating in what she loves to wear that hopefully one day she will grow out of it. She doesn't care what others think she looks like so why do I trouble myself with it. It's not worth it at this point in her life.

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    1. Max doesn't care, either. It's all me, trying to help him fit in instead of standing out.

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  2. Maybe because I'm not Max's mom, but I don't have a problem with the Cars costume. (Though if he was going to a party with a bunch of typical 10's then I don't know what I would do). My son (who turned 10 last Monday) doesn't seem to understand the Halloween thing (autism!). He will wear a Target T-shirt that says "this is my costume"

    I do understand the thought behind your post. I always want to make sure that Luke is dressing like all the other 4th graders. When I get his haircut I always tell them to cut it like the other boys.

    It is also like Luke wanting to play with all the baby musical toys at church last night. I have finally found a church with an appropriate special needs program (I'll tell you more later) and would really like him to go to Sunday school. What will the other kids think!?

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  3. Just heard on NPR about a car wash becoming unionized. How about convincing Max to dress as a union boss? (Maybe next year...)

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    1. Sounds like a bargain idea for a costume!

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  4. Max will get to be an adult the rest of his life, for a "limited time" he gets to be Lightning McQueen!!!! (This is my rational for my kids!)

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    1. Very true. Did I mention that Sabrina is going as a blood skeleton? Lightning McQueen = vastly preferable!

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  5. i love that your problem is thinking a costume is too young - i say it's actually appropropriate! In general kids costumes have gotten wayyyy to old for them, especially the girls ones.

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  6. I agree with the above comment. My youngest PLAYS zombie with his step dad. Now he's never SEEN a zombie flick ( And he won't for a long , long time) but he enjoys putting his arms out and making the groaning noises and going after his step Dad and brother( he winds up tickling them, so he's a tickle zombie ;)) When I asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween he said a zombie. ( he's 3 1/2 !!) He's going to be his second choice instead...optimus prime. He can be a zombie next year. lol I say let your kids be who they are and always encourage it. That's how you get and keep long lasting friends anyway. Those who love you for your differentness will usually love you forever ( I was a different child in my own way, I know this, lived it!)

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  7. I think this is a really important lesson, and one I keep coming back to with my son. When our kids clearly tell us what will make them happy, I don't believe in convincing them otherwise or not allowing them to be happy. Just this year my husband said: "But Ben can't go out for Halloween -- he's 18 years old." And I said "Why not? It's his favourite holiday of the year. All kinds of adults dress up in costumes. And he still looks like a kid." But I guess the bottom line is why would I take something away from him that brings him so much joy. For what point?

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    1. Great point Louise. I was still dressing up and trick or treating in highschool. It's fun! Now to decide on my costume for Sunday Monster March.:)

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    2. Oh, I waivered but ultimately could not have denied Max the joy of a Lightning McQueen costume! He would have disowned me. Or something like that.

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    3. One year a woman in my neighborhood brought her grown, special needs son around, in costume. He was actually "reverse" trick or treating (giving out candy to the neighbors). The grin on his face was heartwarming. I am not yet a parent but I couldn't imagine denying my child that joy no matter what the age

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  8. My 14 year old will be a racoon for Halloween this year. Did I want him to pick a size 4-5 racoon costume that he fits into? Hell no it breaks my heart. However it does not break his, he thinks it's the bomb. More power to him and Max.

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    1. He will be one darn cool raccoon! Wouldn't it be awesome if he and Max paired up and went trick-or-treating together?!

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  9. Most people don't really have a concept of a kid's age anyway, unless you have a five year old (SURI CRUISE) walking around with a pacifier. My son is still younger (special needs as well) but I'm hoping to have the mentality of what will matter most years from now: for you, it will definitely be telilng him how he was obessed with Cars and had to have that costume, how much he loved it, etc.

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  10. All I can say is that we push our kids to hard to fit in with what society thinks is right for their age. In some ways, I have been thankful to not have the pressure to make my child conform. She is different and no amount of pushing is going to change it. I think I am pretty lucky to have my little girl still be my "little" girl for a little while longer than most children. How many times do you hear a parent say, "I miss being able to snuggle and hug on my baby!" I still get too, even though she is 4.

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  11. my post today is on a similar topic http://azisamazing.blogspot.com/2012/10/you-do-not-need-to-be-kid-to-have-fun.html

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  12. If this soothes you at all me and my friends are 14 and still like stuff that 10 year olds like Plus my NT 10 year old cousin likes cars alot!

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  13. I struggle with this. Boo is so petite that she is often mistaken for a 18m or 2YO. Which is where she is developmentally. I struggle with letting people have their misconceptions or owning up to her real age (almost 4).

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  14. It is Halloween. Isn't that what is is about? Getting to be anything you want to be :-) I say good for Max and have a great time.

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    1. I am going as the model Gisele, but thankfully I wouldn't have to do very much in the way of a costume since people are ALWAYS telling me how much I look like her.

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    2. When I met you in New York, that's who I thought you were!!!

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  15. Ellen I understand your thoughts behind it but I also like the idea of the cars costume or any costume that can hold onto childrens inncocence just a little longer. there is no rush to start dressing older! I also think Cars suits any age, I have watched the movies a zillion times and love them! Hope the kids enjoy their festivities. X

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  16. So many parents of kids with special needs deal with this exact same issue. Ironically, in our house it's the typical kid who is a bit "behind" in her interests. She is 8 and is obsessed with Lalaloopsy dolls. It was fairly difficult to find a costume in her size. Just wanted you to know sometimes it's the typical kids who are at a "different place" too. :)

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    1. Agreed. Sabrina's penchant for skeletons really is a little scary.

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  17. I bought my son Star Wars shoes when he was 9. He has MD and uses a walker, has some mild intellectual delay. He wore them in his gr. 4 class until my older sons reminded me that they lit up when he walked!! Apparently this was a no no! I didn't have the heart to take them away. Bad mom? As long as he is happy, I say. :)

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    1. Yes, exactly. I predict Max is actually going to be sleeping in that costume for weeks to come.

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  18. Look, everybody! I got threaded comments—meaning, you can reply to individual comments! Wheeeeeee!

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  19. Oh, I so know what you mean! My daughter is 14 and I just realized that she needs to dress like other 14 yr olds, within reason. I don't want her in anything sexy! But all she wants to wear is purple stretchy pants! As for max and his costume! At least you won't get any nasty emails!

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  20. Around 9 years ago, we were friends with a couple, the husband of which had a little brother, then 13, with Autism. They regaled us with a story about how when their vacation took them to an area with some sort of Thomas The Train Engine headquarters, they HAD to include going there in their itinerary, because Thomas & Friends was the brother's Special Interest, and they figured that place had to be their best bet for finding less universally marketed brand merchandise. It turns out, all they found was ignorance. The workers there questioned why anyone would possibly be looking for a Thomas shirt that would fit a teenager, if they were not perhaps mistaken about the reality of the reason they provided, and whether, if they were right, it was not perhaps cruel, inappropriate, and irresponsible of them to indulge the interest.

    Two years later, we had Ash, and a couple of years later -- by which time something else had ended the aforementioned friendship -- we knew Autism was one of the things going on with him, and had tasted our own introduction to the kind of story they had once told. Now, friends with so many special needs parents, I hear and share such stories quite often.

    One mom makes a weekly effort to engage her son in one thing or another that interests typical peers of his age group. She tests one thing after another....toys, activities, TV shows, etc., hoping to find something that her son will both grasp and enjoy, even perhaps latch on to, that he can share as an "appropriate interest" with schoolmates, and use both to bond and to blend in. One dad goes for broke, buying two of everything -- complete wardrobes, bedroom decor, playroom contents, etc. -- swapping them out constantly for his daughter, depending on whether she's in private, or anyone outside of the immediate family can see. This one struggles, as you have started to, with finding sources for things related to more "childish" passions, that can work for their ever-older child. That one has the opposite problem, trying to find aged-down products and materials (not to mention companionship) appropriate for their little genius with interests more common amongst college professors.

    (cont...)

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  21. (cont)

    So it goes, and always there are questions raised, and answers offered, such as there already are here. Are we still tackling these things with Ash, ourselves? Oh yes, and we're far from finding any easy answers....at best, only ones that feel right, in a given situation.

    And, as with so very, very many things, this kind of issue can get both more and less complicated with Ash, because it's complicated FOR him. On the one hand, he's reading books meant for 5th graders. On the other hand, he'd love to play on the Sesame Street website after finishing his homework. He's as likely to try telling you what he recently researched about the musculo-skeletal system of the human body, as he is to recite a memorized play-by-play of Baby Einstein videos he hasn't seen in six years. He's never done the typical-for-autistic-kids thing of hyperfocusing and obsessing over only one interest, so hey, it's easy enough to NOT send him to school in Pooh-Bear shirts. (In fact, a dragon shirt will trump pretty much anything, and though it's getting harder to find ones I don't have to make myself, dragons are, unless particularly drawn that way, not generally seen as only a very little boy's passion.) On the other hand, Ash barely has the first clue about most of the characters/shows/movies/celebrities referenced on the shirts of his classmates. He never even got into superheros.

    We just....strive for balance, and kind of run with it, and focus less on molding what he likes to do and talk about and have on/around him, and more on trying to teach him the whens, wheres and with-whoms of best-chance reception, when it comes to the many kinds of things he likes. The one trap we do have to be careful of, with him, when it comes to supporting the full span of his interests, is that it's too easy to let him hold himself back. Just because he's capable of reading, understanding, discussing, and being interested in a book at the reading level of a child a number of years older, doesn't mean he wouldn't happily sit there flipping the pages of a baby board book, and telling you about the minute details of the one picture on each page, over and over. He'd take pleasure in both, but can't really get anything more out of one, whereas the other holds more challenge and potential. So sometimes we have to try to phase things out, just so he leaves himself room for new things. He's got an eidetic memory and his brain doesn't filter or distinguish any sort of relevance, so pretty much anything can be fully engaging in his mind, at any moment, anyway.

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  22. My daughters are 17 and 15, and they still dress as Disney characters :) I am 36, and I would rock a lightning mcqueen costume! Go max!

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  23. I read this article and immediately thought... you are ashamed of your son. Why so worried that he may or may not fit in? I don't think it strange for an almost 10 year old to want to be Lightning McQueen, special needs or not. My daughter is not special needs but is strong-willed. When she was younger, she insisted on wearing a pull-down hat, a sundress and boots to the store. At first I worried people might think it strange. But I decided to let her wear it... because I realized not one person would think I made her wear that. It was her choice. And I accepted her choice. And I immediately let go of any shame I had that people would judge me for what my child was wearing. Let him be a kid. Embrace the quirkiness. If you accept it as he does, all is well.

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  24. My daughter will be 23 in a couple days she is still a tad young for her age. She was born with a syndrome called vela-cardio-facial-syndrome. I remember having the same concerns when she was little. I remember once she came home from school she was in 3rd or 4th grade and the other girls didn't want her in their group for a talent show and she said all smiles to me thats ok mommy I think if I was in their group everyone would pay attention to the pretty hat you bought me and the other girls would be sad. She just has a really nice way about herself. She is kind. Let him be who he is he will find his way. By the way my daughter is graduating from community college this spring with an early childhood education diploma I could not be any prouder

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  25. I'm 20 in my 3rd yr of college. I use a wheelchair. I have no cognitive challenges. My plain is to go as a Disney villain. As for LM costume:Ka-Chow.

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Thanks for sharing!



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