The Blue Pumpkin for ’autism awareness’ is not a good idea. In fact, it’s a really, really bad idea.
I’m an Autistic mom to Autistic kids ages teens to 28. While in theory this ‘blue bucket’ for Autistic kids might seem OK for non-Autistic parents to help support their child, in reality it’s an awful practice.
This blue bucket phenomenon is for the parents of Autistics, not Autistics themselves. It’s for the parent’s discomfort with their child behaving different than the other children on this holiday. Maybe it’s for parents ‘saving face’ with neighbors when their Autistic kid does behave oddly. Maybe it’s a team-building camaraderie with other parents of Autistics … a silent ’me too’ while going door-to-door. I’m not sure.
I’m not sure, because I’m not neurotypical and can only guess at the social conformities expected and never met in this situation. I can only guess at the social ramifications this has for non-Autistic parents in their typical society. I can only guess at the fallout neurotypical parents experience because I don’t meet these social expectations every day, Halloween or otherwise.
Many non-Autistic parents can’t fathom the stigma their Autistic child will face on a day-to-day basis their entire lives. These parents can’t fathom their ’autism awareness’ campaigns are harming Autistic people, including their own child. They can’t understand what they’ve not experienced before. Not at this level.
So while I’m not sure what the inclusion scenario this blue bucket is supposed to accomplish, I do imagine it’s goes a bit like this …
Random Neighbor Handing Out Candy: See that blue pumpkin? That child’s Autistic. That’s why they’re different. This blue pumpkin illustrates the reason to be ’nice’ and accept differences. So now I’m going to ‘be kind’ and put a chocolate in that bucket. But let’s not stop there!
Next we’re all going to hold hands and sing the song of inclusion. Tra la la lah la. Sprinkle in some Hallmark Channel sappiness and voila! *Autistic acceptance*
Now, because I’m being such a kind neighbor, I’m going to drop a second chocolate in the bucket and then watch the family with an Autistic traipse on with giant smiles. Goodness golly, aren’t they so brave? Squee, paradigms evolving. Autistic acceptance via the blue bucket for everyone. Cheers! Hooray! Hugs all around!
Eek! That’s a nice fantasy. Does someone have a Pepsi to pass around while we all hum a song of unity? And WTAF with the hugs, hand holding and loud, abrupt noises of celebration? (sensory nightmare, no thanks.)
The reality, in my experience, is Halloween is one of the days where non-Autistic parents can see and feel the difference in how their Autistic child is treated up front and center. They can see and experience some of that stigma and difference directed at them for being a parent of an Autistic as well. To be thought of as ’less than’ or excluded doesn’t feel good, not for anyone whether Autistic, divergent or neurotypical, and abled or disabled.
For some non-divergents, parenting an Autistic child is the first very real difference they’ve experienced from their peer groups and social circles. Perhaps it’s the first difference they can’t bend to conform and then fit in with others. Perhaps it’s natural for a non-Autistic parent try to recreate the acceptance they had in society while growing up for their Autistic child. Perhaps it’s natural for them to think a blue pumpkin bucket will magically somehow make that possible.
As a parent, I get it. I know I want the world to be a kinder and nicer place for all of my children. All of them. It hurts me worse to see my children suffering stigma and otherness than for me to experience it. Wanting to protect an Autistic child and change the world to be more accepting of them is so incredibly understandable. Unfortunately, paving the sidewalks for Autistic acceptance with a blue pumpkin candy bucket is not the solution. In fact, it’s a bad practice and outing the child. It’s placing a target in their hand, making them even easier prey for bullies and predators.
Autistics are already a target for the not-nice typicals, then compound that with the stigma and pop culture references that this blue bucket is generating and wow. For Americans, the blue bucket for Autistics is the new ’short bus’ reference. That blue bucket is the new ’window licker’ reference. Yes, it’s fucking ableist and awful. Autistic, the word, is used as a slur on school playgrounds, tv shows, movies, books, and quipped by famous people, politicians and more. It’s socially acceptable to bash and mock Autistics in today’s culture. The word Autistic is used like the R-word used to be. The stigma generated here by non-Autistic parents is unintended but real. So massively real.
Frankly, Autistic children don’t need to share their diagnosis with strangers and neighbors to go trick-or-treat on Halloween. Yes, there might be awkward moments, but for an Autistic there are always awkward, uncomfortable moments when in mixed society. We have a lifetime of them and must learn to navigate and adapt.
The privilege non-autistic parents posses doesn’t apply to their autistic child. I believe this is one reason it’s been so difficult to make folks understand the negative connotations that their ’solution’ to inclusion on Halloween instigates for Autistics. The stigma and ugly this blue pumpkin generates towards Autistics is incredible. The people pushing the pumpkin are in a space of privilege and don’t understand and won’t personally experience the harm and stigma generated with it.
Non-Autistic parents, please consider there is a much bigger picture here you can’t fathom. The repercussions of the blue pumpkin won’t be felt by you – but it will be felt your Autistic child. They’ll feel it now and years from now. So will all their Autistic peers, young and old.
We Autistics are the ones that carry burden of stigma non-Autistic parents and people unwittingly create with their ‘autism awareness’ campaigns. It’s Autistic children that suffer this blue bucket initiative the most. The stigma spewing from this campaign is horrible and will be affecting the Autistic community for generations to come. Horribly, most of the people propelling this stigma as solution won’t listen. I suppose this is because they don’t experience the the fallout, and since they can’t experience this stigma, they deny it exists or minimize the levity of it.
These ’autism advocates’ behave as if they don’t contribute to the ugly out here Autistics must face every single day of their lives. They plug their ears to Autistic voices and do what makes them feel ’good.’ For some reason, this blue bucket really satisfies some non-Autistic parents’ advocacy efforts. Too bad it’s misguided and at our Autistic expense.
And let’s remember the pumpkin is blue due to it’s connection to a parent-founded autism organization’s advocacy efforts. You know the one. (The reality is the blue pumpkin is about promoting this organization and their brand of ’autism awareness’ for us, not actually supporting the Autistics.) Please be aware: The blue pumpkin is not to be confused with the teal pumpkin initiative – a very, very different campaign.
I’m simply the voice of one Autistic and one parent of Autistics. There are many great articles and posts written about this blue bucket fad by Autistics and our actual allies. I’ve shared just a few below. These articles and posts are much better at explaining the conundrum than I’ve been able to express. Please give them a read.
Please consider their voices, words and lived experience.
Recent Posts & Articles
We can argue about blue pumpkins ‘for autism’ all day (please don’t, it’s dangerous due to confusion with the Teal Pumpkin Project), but the “awareness” that really needs to get out is that people passing out candy have no right to demand that anyone speak or explain their private medical information.
Be decent humans …
[image: white background, colorful narwhal with black text that reads “no one owes you access to their diagnosis in exchange for a candy bar.”]
A #NeuroInclusive Story for Parents
If people are telling you to get the blue pumpkin bucket for your autistic child, please consider not doing that.
Autistic kids and adults deserve the right to decide if and how to share their neurotype with others.
Many autistic people are happy with being autistic, but NOT with the picture of autism others have in their minds that erases and reduces their identity down to a list of symptoms.
Consider passing on the blue pumpkins and any “blue autism” fads. #Autism as a brand or trend is never going to be a respectful or helpful to #ActuallyAutistic people.
Let autistic kids captain their own identities.
Image descriptions under each image. Julius the Grumpkin illustrated by Kate Jones Illustration
Autism #BluePumpkin #BluePumkins #BlueBucket #AutismMom #AutismDad #AutismParent #Halloween #JuliusTheGrumpkin #TheBlueGrumpkin
There seems to be no shortage of well-intentioned neurotypical people who try to help the autistic community however they can. While this is nice enough in theory, the fact that autism is more neurological than it is physical means that it is much more misunderstood by those who are not neurodivergent.
Thus, it becomes all-too-common for non-autistics to inadvertently annoy or even unintentionally hurt the autistic community with actions that they intend to be helpful. This is most definitely true with the blue bucket trend.
This whole campaign encouraging parents of autistic kids to have our kids carry a blue pumpkin to collect candy really gets under my skin. My son can’t speak. He doesn’t say, “Trick or Treat,” and says “thank you” in sign language. He’s 15, and no, actually, he isn’t too old to go trick or treating, so don’t ask and shame him for it.
Does a developmentally or intellectually disabled child have to color code themselves so people won’t be assholes to them?
Here’s an idea.
Don’t be a Dick.
It’s free candy night.
If you aren’t happy to give free candy to whoever shows up at your door, turn off your light and just don’t.
He’s going to carry his Sponge Bob candy bucket like he has for years. And that’s okay. I really shouldn’t have to explain about him in the third person when he’s standing there to justify his existence or interactions to strangers.
We don’t owe you a teachable moment. He wants to have fun just like anyone else.
So here’s my Halloween teachable moment from the mom of an autistic teenager:
Don’t be an asshole to kids.
With Halloween coming up, the blue pumpkin project has surfaced online. The blue pumpkin is to make the autistic children stand out so people know that the child may not be able to say “trick or treat.” It seems innocent enough but the autistic community as a whole is against this.
Blue for autism was started by Autism Speaks. The blue signifies that it is a boy’s disability. They control the tragedy narrative that we are working so hard to fight. They encourage parents to grieve the child they thought they were going to have. They are still the same child .