Rethinking Halloween

Halloween as a holiday encompasses a range of traditions, and I think that it’s unique in so far as both children and adults seem to derive a great deal of joy from the traditions around it.

I also think Halloween is special because it creates an opportunity for inclusion by celebrating different cultures and spiritual beliefs in a way that is inviting and fun for people of all ages.


In thinking about how to make Halloween inclusive for people with different language abilities and sensory sensitivities, here are some ideas I’ve come across from talking to other families:

  1. Choose a Sensory Friendly Costume - Tags and hems bother a lot of people, and most costumes are not really designed to be one size fits all. Why not pajamas instead?

  2. Use a Social Story for Trick-or-Treating - I gotta be honest: the whole concept of trick-or-treating is weird when you really break it down. While dressed up as something else, we run up to stranger’s front doors and say a random phrase expecting to receive candy from people we’ve never met before. For real? One of my all time favorite stories comes from working with a particular friend of mine (I can’t believe it, but it was likely 7 or 8 years ago) who quite literally barged into everyone’s house for the first few houses he visited.

  3. Keep Safety in Mind - The big thing I try to keep in mind is visibility and proximity when walking by houses or areas with more car traffic. I think the tricky thing to balance is when to allow children/adolescents to venture out with more distance and independence.

  4. Be Nice to People - While this may seem obvious, I no longer take it for granted or consider it common sense. Here is a post I found shared on my Facebook feed that I think sums up a gentle and accepting approach to greeting trick-or-treaters at your door.

Halloween post.jpg


The best part of Halloween for me is looking forward to doing the same activities each year. Sharing these traditions with friends and seeing our kids look forward to them year after year really gets me into the spirit.

  1. We wear family costumes (see below). I originally detested this idea, but it’s started to really grow on me to the point that I really look forward to it. I wonder how many more years we have left in the tank where the kids will go along with our version of crazy.

  2. Gotta watch the Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin

  3. Decorate the house with Spider Lights and now the outside with orange/purple lights.

  4. Visit Powers Farm Market to check out the hayrides and baller Tepees. Seriously.

  5. Celebrate our middle child’s birthday! (pretty much the reason-for-the-season).

World Autism Day 2017

I really enjoy Christmas lights, so much so that I'm one-step removed from Walt Griswold.

While placing candle lights in the window back in November, I decided that I wanted to keep them up through April so that my family and I could Light it up Blue for World Autism Day.

I went to this website to buy candle lights, and I picked up standard bulbs at Home Depot.


April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, making this the 10th year of recognition on this day. Initially envisioned to bring greater awareness, the focus now broadens to include acceptance, advocacy, and greater autonomy for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.

My goal this month is talk more with my kids about people with autism and their families. They each know I work with people with autism, but I want to deepen their understanding in a way that matches their developmental level. I think these shows might be a good start for them.

I'm going to light up my house blue for all of April, and I hope that people who see the lights on at night reflect and respond inclusively for individuals with autism and their families.

With the Help of Thy Grace


On the 4th floor of The Cardinal Gibbons School, our teacher always asked us to stand at the start of each 10th grade English class.  We had a lot of characters for teachers, and Mr. Foy was definitely one of them. Equal parts Bilbo Baggins and Robin Williams as played in Dead Poets Society, Mr. Foy began each English class by asking us to stand and say in unison the following 4 prayers: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and traditional Act of Contrition.

Each line in this last prayer always resonated with me, and through the passage of time and the taking up of my profession as a psychologist, the one that rings most clearly still is:

I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace

As we have just started a New Year, I imagine many of us (myself included) have acts and thoughts we want to resolve. The origin of the word resolve comes from the Latin and has come to take on a few different meanings: to loosen; to find a solution; solve; to put right.

Many of us will make resolutions to eat better, sleep more, work out, read books, and be nicer. After the newness of the year wears off, the resolve many of us felt at the threshold weakens. This then is when I believe that grace, either from within or above, comes in awfully handy. By grace then I mean being able to maintain your poise in reaching and striving for these goals.

I think there are things we can do to maintain our resolve toward establishing these habits:

  1. Set Goals you can readily achieve and make them Observable and Measurable. Vague goals are unlikely to be met even for those with the firmest resolve.
  2. Create an Accountability Mechanism for tracking the goal. This can be an Excel spreadsheet, daily posting of your runs to Facebook, automating reminder to report your progress to your best friend.
  3. Find a Cue that for you signals the new routine. Maybe it's a song, a sound, an image -- whatever it takes, try to find something you cannot tune out and make it something that reminds you of something you are working toward.
  4. Make Space and Time for the new routine. If you want to start running tomorrow, go to bed in your running outfit and put your running shoes by the door. Have the coffee set to go off 15 minutes after you come home so that it's ready to drink after you shower. If you haven't run in 2 years, focus on walking three days a week or even stretching for a few minutes each morning as your coffee brews. Start today.
  5. Establish a clear Reward for following the new routine. In order to drink the coffee, you have to (stretch, walk, run). In order to watch football on Sunday, resolve to (attend church, mow the lawn, volunteer, reach out to family). Making things at least somewhat contingent will help move the habit forward, at least initially. It will be important, though, to establish an internal reward or reason for the goal you have set. Reminding yourself of the "why" you're trying to do something different is also important.
  6. Find a Buddy or Build a Team to share the new routine. This could range from finding a friend to run with, joining a running team or an on-line support community that can offer encouragement and accountability while working toward the goal.

One of my absolute favorite on-line communities that I stumbled across a few years ago is Nerd Fitness. I like how it incorporates an interest in gaming with social connectedness.

Good luck with your New Year's Goals in 2017!

Holidays on the Horizon

This is a time of year rife with responsibility and saturated with stress. A lot of folks feel like they have to be everywhere and do everything between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

I am not exempt from being stuck and spinning my wheels as December hurtles us forward through holiday get-togethers, work parties, and social obligations of every permutation.

In my personal experience (that sounds a lot more approachable than "in my clinical opinion," right?), taking a step back (however brief and small) is invaluable at this time of year. I'm not saying that this is the time to reorganize priorities, but I do think there are ways to trim the emotional fat so that you and your family can be well positioned to enjoy the holiday season.

Some recommendations that I've found to be useful:

1. Follow traditions that reduce (or don't add) stress. For me, this is cutting down Christmas trees from Wilbert's Tree Farm in Webster, NY. Yep, you caught that extra "s" on the end of the word tree. I loves me some indoor O' Tannenbaum all over the place. In the past, this excursion into my version of the wild has proven a tad stressful because I would try to do it with a manual saw while my Better Half played defense against the creatures we created (a.k.a. our wonderful children). I also tend to brazenly insist on finding the largest tree, which takes a lot of time and foraging. This year we invited our great family friends to go with us, we pre-gamed that business with breakfast at Mama Lor's, and then we got strategic whilst wielding my great friend's chain saw. We expanded our tradition - hello friends and breakfast! - while reducing the stress by having more hands to help corral cherubs and power tools. 


2. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good (or spend less time around those who don't). This is your life to live, and I think it's kind of cruddy to force ourselves to spend it around people who get us emotionally jacked up. Whether it's family, friends, or some combination thereof, I think we especially need to spend this time with people that get us. Even if we feel compelled to spend time around folks who do not necessarily lift us up, I still think it's incredibly important to make some time (after work, on the weekend beforehand) to see people we like, miss, and enjoy during the holiday season.

3. Prize experiences you can do with others over stuff. Easier said than done, but it matters. This idea is backed by research from Caprariello and Reis that suggests that, "Spending money to acquire experiences that are shared with others was valued over spending money on experiences enacted alone or on material possessions." The series of studies is nuanced and sophisticated, and I think a take-away could be that there's a lot of value in spending your money on experiences you enjoy doing with others rather than solo trips or just more stuff.

4. Eat well, drink less, sleep more. The holidays have their own gravitational pull, and we will likely enjoy them more when we make a conscious attempt at keeping ourselves healthy. If I had to pick one from this list of three, I would prioritize getting to bed earlier since this has a way of predicting and leading to late night snacking and over drinking. I feel like it's hard to sell people on the idea of eating well and drinking less on the holidays, but sleep is awesome.

One of the things my Better Half and I are trying to do to diminish stress is to go out to dinner before Christmas church services so that our Little People are fed beforehand and so that the Hunger Monster doesn't muck up our parent mojo. Building on a Christmas tradition from my Better Half's childhood, we're going to grab a pizza at Crust Pizza Kitchen before going to Christmas Eve Mass. It will be our second Christmas Eve at Crust, and their pizza is always a winner with the whole family. We're looking forward to it!

Seriously, look at that pizza.  Aren't you hungry?  I am.  

Seriously, look at that pizza.  Aren't you hungry?  I am.