The Real Reason Families Display Blue Pumpkins in the Fall

·6 min read
The Real Reason Families Display Blue Pumpkins in the Fall
  • Blue pumpkins have been informally adopted by some families across the country as a vehicle to raise awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) after the idea went viral on social media.

  • While blue pumpkins aren't associated with a formal fundraiser or organization, families may choose to display them as a symbol to help educate others on how Halloween festivities may impact a child on the autism spectrum.

  • Experts say you should be mindful of three main obstacles during the holiday; below, they share tips on what you should do if you see a child carrying a blue pumpkin (or if you wish to display one yourself).

A pumpkin display is a great way to catch your neighbors' eye during the fall season, and especially during Halloween festivities — especially if they're vibrantly painted or colored. This is particularly true for blue-colored pumpkins and gourds used in traditional decorative displays in October; and in the case of Halloween, any dark-blue pumpkin candy buckets and yard signs getting fellow trick-or-treaters to take a second look.

And like many other non-traditional pumpkins at Halloween, the act of setting out a blue pumpkin started as a grassroots movement on social media — but it has remained a family-first awareness campaign for the 1-in-54 American children who are on the autism spectrum, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

Most likely inspired by the Teal Pumpkin Project — which launched in 2013 as a way for families facing severe food allergies to better educate neighbors about these challenges — social media users began noticing blue pumpkins begin to trend as symbols to raise awareness about how Autism Spectrum Disorders may impact trick-or-treating and other Halloween festivities. It's unclear who first began using blue pumpkins as a conversation starter for autism education, but one of the first viral posts about the social-fueled grassroots campaign came from one Louisiana-based family in 2018.

Since then, many families have taken to displaying blue pumpkins on their porches, lawns and in backyards to aim to kick off a conversation with neighbors — and some have created blue-pumpkin candy bags for children to prompt neighbors to think twice about how they may have to adjust their interactions once they open the door to trick or treaters. One pediatric therapy group based in Wyoming took to Facebook to sum up the most popular way blue pumpkins have been used by families in the know: "If you see someone carrying a blue pumpkin while trick or treating, please consider that they may have autism," they shared on Facebook. "This means that speech may be difficult as well as their ability to interact with you. Be extra kind!"

What is the meaning of a blue pumpkin?

There are two ways blue pumpkins may be used in the fall season and during Halloween; while neither is tied to a singular public campaign or a nonprofit fundraising goal, many families organize blue pumpkin displays and outreach efforts for unique awareness (and for personal goals, too!).

Primarily, blue pumpkins are used by families and caregivers to signal to others that their child is on the autism spectrum (and that trick-or-treating exchanges may present unique perplexities for them) to prompt neighbors to be more aware of the situation in the moment. One viral 2019 post lays out why parents are hoping blue pumpkins will catch on across cities and neighborhoods everywhere.

"My son is 3 years old and has autism. He is nonverbal," Omairis Taylor wrote on Facebook back in 2019. "Last year, houses will wait for him to say 'Trick or Treat' in order for him to get a piece of candy — and there I go explaining the situation for the next 5 blocks. This year, we will be trying the Blue Bucket to signify he has autism. Please allow him (or anyone with a Blue Bucket) to enjoy this day… this holiday is hard enough without any added stress," she added.

Other parents and caregivers have expressed concern over requiring a child to carry a visual indicator, and will instead opt for blue pumpkin displays to prompt a conversation about the best ways to greet and interact with a child on the autism spectrum.

It's a moment when families have an opportunity to explain that traditional Halloween displays may trigger sensory issues, or as Taylor explained, that verbal communication may be limited or nonexistent during evening festivities (and that's okay!). Some may display blue pumpkins as a sign that they've prepared in advance to address common obstacles that children on the autism spectrum face on this holiday as well.

But it's important to note that some people feel like blue pumpkins as a whole create more of a barrier on Halloween for those on the austism spectrum. Ultimately, it's up to the individual and/or family to decide what works best for them.

Regardless of displaying a blue pumpkin, there are a few ways to make the holiday a fun and safe one for all.

How to make Halloween more inclusive for people on the autism spectrum:

Officials at the Autism Society of America have published a quick introduction guide to help you create a more welcoming environment for children on the autism spectrum and their families during Halloween. After you've taken some time to familiarize yourself with common obstacles, your family may be inclined to display painted blue pumpkins (or yard signs!) outside of your home — doing so indicates you've taken some time to educate yourself and have adjusted your space to be more welcoming for all.

Wendy Fournier, president and founding board member of the National Autism Association, shares with Good Housekeeping that households can focus on three areas of improvement to make Halloween more inclusive for any trick-or-treater on the autism spectrum:

  • Reducing sensory overloads: Since Halloween decor can be both visually and audibly jarring, try to scale down your front porch decor to keep lighting even and encompassing. "Things to be aware of include startling or sudden loud sounds that could trigger a fight or flight response," says Fournier, adding that flashing lights are particularly concerning. "I'd suggest posting some sort of notification on the property for trick or treaters as they approach the house, giving them an opportunity to make a decision about participating."

  • Addressing dietary restrictions: As sensory aversions are common for most Autistic individuals, some children may be averse to chewy fruit candies or crunchy chocolate bites. "It's always nice to provide choices like nut-free and gluten-free options for those with food allergies or dietary restrictions," says Fournier, who also advocates for non-edible treats like small toys or crafts supplies.

  • Being open to all kinds of interactions: "It's estimated that approximately 40% of people with Autism are non-speaking, so don't expect or demand a verbal 'trick or treat!' before placing treats in a bucket," she explains. "The best way to interact with someone you think may be non-speaking is to simply wish them a 'Happy Halloween' or complement their costume… Some are unable to verbally say 'thank you,' but they will certainly be grateful for your kindness and understanding."

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