Last year, Palmyra resident Leigh McCourt Bray and her family experienced a very traumatic incident while they were trick-or-treating. While at a neighbor’s house, her son, who has autism, struggled to pick up the perfect piece of candy. Annoyed and impatient, the neighbor snatched the bowl back and shut the door, which led to a meltdown from her son and a long walk home.
At first, Bray believed that perhaps Halloween and trick-or-treating just isn’t for them, but as the season nears, Bray felt her children shouldn’t have to stay inside and not partake in the festivities due to other people’s lack of understanding and sensitivity.
To enjoy Halloween, Bray had a plan to not only go to houses that have compassion and understanding, but to spread awareness of the issue in general. Bray created the “We Get It” trick-or-treat signs.
“We Get It is about inclusion for those with special needs on Halloween,” said Bray’s friend and neighbor Wesley Allen. “The goal is to take a bad experience that a Palmyra family had and transform it into a call for real hospitality and understanding for our neighbors who need a bit more love to enjoy the holiday. Posting these signs is a way for neighbors to say to those with special needs as well as their caregivers that you and all the unique wonder you bring are welcome here.”
According to Bray, Halloween is one of the most celebrated holidays in the country, but unfortunately it’s a struggle for some kids. Some children have allergies and can’t enjoy certain types of candy, some have social and communication limitations and may not have the ability to say please, thank you or trick-or-treat, and some have anxiety and sensory issues. Other children may even have visual or hearing impairments, fine motor deficits or mobility concerns.
“We’re hoping that the signs can bring attention to the issues that some kids face,” said Bray. “Some people don’t intend to be rude, they just don’t understand. We’re hoping these signs will let people be more empathetic and compassionate not only for Halloween, but even after the holiday.”
After sharing her story and her goal for the signs, Bray received an overwhelming reaction from the community and all of the surrounding towns. Residents in Palmyra, Delran, Cinnaminson. Riverton, Riverside, Mt. Laurel and Delanco all wanted to get involved and create signs for their own town. Bray even receive messages from various families about similar incidents that they had gone through while trick-or-treating.
“I’m shocked at the reaction,” said Bray, “A lot of moms and parents who have children with special needs reached out directly and it showed that it wasn’t just an isolated incident with my son. In the grand scheme of things, Halloween is not a big deal, but it’s more about inclusion. We shouldn’t have to apologize or keep kids at home. People should be more compassionate, and if you see a kid struggling, don’t make a judgment that they’re just being rude.”
Those looking to get involved or who would like a sign for their yards can go to
www.antidotestodespair.com. Bray and Allen will also be distributing signs at the Central Baptist Church in Palmyra on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. All signs are free.