Special NeedsTraditions & Celebrations

Today’s Terrible Idea: Blue Pumpkins for Autism

Think twice before clicking "share" on that blue pumpkin news article.

In the last week, my social media and news feeds have exploded with articles praising “one mom’s viral solution” to the problems facing autistic kids and halloween. It turns out that this solution was never in widespread use, and isn’t any kind of solution. For a variety of reasons, this crappy idea is another hollow gesture people share misguidedly (or while virtue signaling) that does nothing good for our kids.

It’s a Terrible Idea for Kids with Allergies

There’s already a blue-ish pumpkin out there. It’s teal, and it’s a very useful tool for children who could literally die if they get the wrong treats on halloween. the teal pumpkin is a great way for houses to indicate that they’re allergen free, and serve as an added layer of protection for children with food allergies. If my kid had a food allergy that could kill them but wanted to participate in a tradition of childhood, I would grab at any tool possible to make that participation safe for them.

4 bluish pumpkin buckets overlapped. . .guess which one is teal.
Blue and teal pumpkins from Walmart’s website. . .imagine them in the gloaming. Quick, which is blue? Which is teal?

As a result of the whole deadly food allergy thing, the teal pumpkin has been pretty widely adopted. Because the food allergy pumpkin is basically blue-green, introducing a new awareness pumpkin that’s blue means that we expect people to differentiate between blue-green and blue many times a night during the 30 seconds that they see each child on dark nights with porch lighting. It seems like they’re setting people up for failure, and failure at an endeavor that includes food allergies is no small thing. People are already giving out candy on cold fall nights to every child that hits their doorstep, let’s not add a color-discrimination test to the mix.

It’s a Terrible Idea for Autistic People

Please don’t think that my biggest issue with this pumpkin is the color scheme. My biggest issue is that it hurts autistic kids by throwing a big blue target on them. I am proud of my children, and their wonderful brains. But, when and if they want to share their diagnosis with their neighbors and peers is up to them. Sticking a blue bucket in their hands takes that choice away from them, and given that autistic kids are more likely to be bullied than their peers it seems like a monumentally bad idea to have them carry a giant signal that they are autistic (and maybe in this case, the blue/teal confusion will at least prevent some of that).

To be clear, I am not hoping my children “pass” as neurotypical, an accusation I see levied at parents who observe that they dislike the blue bucket idea. I want my children to have a good time, be safe and have their privacy respected.

It’s. A. Bad. Idea.

I could continue, but I shouldn’t. I am a neurotypical parent of an autistic child. As a group, we have a tendency to ignore the voices of autistic people, especially when those voices resoundingly rebuke us when our well-intentioned ideas for our children are not great. Last year, and again this year, autistic writers and speakers have shared their horror at this gimmicky pumpkin concept.

Writer, Autistic On Wheels has compiled several excellent pieces about this issue on their blog post “Resource: Blue Pumpkins for Halloween.” Please go there and read any of the posts in the links to learn what people closely entwined in this issue have to say. Seriously. Choose any random link in the post and follow it to see why this is unsafe, a violation of privacy, linked to a group people hate, and just generally terrible.

In Short

We have this strange habit of virtue signaling with big, useless gestures even as we ignore the voices and needs of the people affected by those gestures. We need to stop that crap. We need to stop insisting that people with different needs label themselves in order to be worthy of the same experiences as everyone else, and we need to listen to autistic people about things that affect autistic people. In this case, we need to stop spreading this bad idea and focus on being patient and kind to all children on Halloween, no matter what color their bucket is.



Deek lives with her husband, twin sons and two cats in the northwest. She teaches and writes about parenting in the NICU, her experiences as a parent of micro-preemies and skeptical parenting.

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