Last year, Halloween was a challenge for Luke Taylor.

His mom, Omairis Taylor, didn’t think he’d need to carry a blue bucket indicating he had autism; he was so little at age 2, she reasoned, that she could just speak for him. But after four or five houses, it was clear that Luke, who is nonverbal, was feeling stressed. Other kids lined up behind him as well-meaning grown-ups waited for him to say “trick or treat.”

The noise, the lights and the crowding left him overwhelmed and clinging to his mom.

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Taylor, a U.S. Army staff sergeant in Honolulu, was just trying to make this year a little better when she posted on Facebook last week, saying that, this year, 3-year-old Luke would be carrying a blue bucket, and she hoped people would understand when she said “trick or treat” for him. But the post was shared and reshared: first by members of the local military Facebook page where it initially appeared, then by parents and well-wishers across the U.S.

To date, the post has been shared more than 155,000 times.

“It kind of built a bridge,” Taylor, 30, said in a phone interview. “I thought maybe I’m alone in this, but I’ve received messages from people in Mexico, in Australia, saying, ‘My son’s the same way.’ It’s been really good to feel like there’s a support group. I feel like we’re all in this together.”

Among those responding on Facebook was a Chicago-area mother who wrote, “Thank you for raising awareness. My daughter is nonverbal and has severe autism. A little understanding goes a long way.”

Taylor said Luke can say a few words, and with the help of therapy, he’s making great progress. Just last month, he said “mom” and “dad” for the first time.

“It was like my life changed in that moment,” she said.

He’s been practicing saying “trick or treat” this year, and he has nailed it, Taylor said, but saying it when he’s outside of his comfort zone may be more challenging.

Taylor said she’s optimistic about the holiday this year; her military community has responded warmly, she said, with strangers saying, “Come to my house,” or asking for playdates. And her family has been invited to small Halloween events, so Luke can work up to house-to-house trick-or-treating.

Taylor said that she was pleased that the online conversation about her post had expanded to include children who are nonverbal but do not have autism, and kids with food allergies, who sometimes carry teal-colored buckets. (If a trick-or-treater with a teal bucket comes to your door, a non-food treat will be appreciated.) Blue buckets, often emblazoned with jack-o’-lantern smiles, signal that the carrier has autism, or is nonverbal for another reason. Purple pumpkins are used as decorations to raise awareness of epilepsy, and pink pumpkins can symbolize the fight against breast cancer.

Asked what people can do to support kids with autism during trick-or-treating, Taylor said the answer is often simple.

“Just patience and a little bit of kindness will go a long way,” she said. “That’s all I need.”

© 2019 Chicago Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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