Ho, Ho, Oh No!

If I were to take a poll of people and children (yes, I know, they are considered people too!) that have anxiety around costumed characters, it would be heavily weighted to more have issues than not.  I never knew about this fear until I met my sister-in-law and at first I laughed about it.  A grown adult afraid of costumed characters? I wasn’t being mean, just incredulous. I’ve always loved sitting on Santa’s lap, watching a clown perform or posing with Mickey Mouse for a photo. After all, we all know that there is a real person inside, right?

Well, apparently rational thoughts vanish from the head when someone with a costume character phobia gets within 10 feet of a costumed character. For the sake of this article, let’s coin the term “costumephobia”.  When my son with autism was 2 years old, I soon realized another person with costumephonia had entered my life. Little did I know that when we held him in our arms and posed with Goofy at Disneyland, he was having anxiety about it. When I sat him on Santa’s lap, he screamed and I couldn’t understand why. Clowns make him run frantically in the opposite direction and don’t even try to get him near that giant rat named Chuck E. Cheese!

Now that I have a better understanding of his phobia, I steer clear of any costumed character we come across. When we are at Disneyland, we steer the stroller in the opposite direction of a character. One time we didn’t notice the costume character Sulley from Monster’s Inc up ahead. (I know, he’s in a 8′ neon blue costume and we missed it!) Well, my son saw him and jumped out of the stroller (yes, he unbuckled it and fled a moving vehicle!) and took off in the opposite direction.

Today, our son with autism is old enough now to understand that a real person is inside the costume and that they won’t try to harm him. He can stand at a distance and observe them, but still will not willingly greet Santa. Last year at my husband’s office holiday party, Santa made an appearance and brought presents for the kids. When his name was called, my son ran up to him, grabbed his gift and ran back to safety. Apparently presents can entice him into a 5 second encounter and temporarily leave the costumephobia behind him!

What are parents with kids on the spectrum to do about their child’s valid phobia this time of year when around every corner you turn is a Jolly Ol’ Man with a scary fake beard?  Front loading your child before any outing or holiday party to let them know just what to expect will help those kids that are OK with seeing, but not getting close to a character. For kids that have extreme anxiety around a costume character, try showing them photos of the character, going to a store and touching a costume (or bring one home), talk about why they wear the costume and where you’ll be visiting that has characters there.

A supplement that can help anxiety is the amino acid GABA. It is neuro-calming and helps with the neurotransmitters that are needed to balance the excitement or anxiety in our brains.  Magnesium is also neuro-calming and can benefit those with anxiety.

During this holiday season, it’s best to anticipate what may happen and prepare your child with autism or costumephobia on what to expect. Don’t make the mistake I did and force your child to sit on Santa’s lap. Enjoy this holiday season and relax around your costumephobic friends and family. They need you to be empathic and accept their phobia. Ho, ho, ho!

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