Halloween Costumes for Children With Particular Wants
Five years ago, Jessica Bondi and Brian Steinberg couldn’t find a Halloween costume for their son Ben’s disability. Ben has cerebral palsy and has been using a wheelchair since he was 3 years old. Ms. Bondi saw photos of costumes made by other parents of children with disabilities, but felt intimidated by the elaborate projects. Besides, Ben is a twin. If he and his brother Nathan wanted to wear matching costumes, it was almost impossible to find them in stores.
Recently, Ms. Bondi has found that adaptive costumes that are geared towards people with disabilities or sensory issues have become more accessible and affordable. Now Ben can choose a superhero costume from Walmart, Target, Amazon or other major brand retailers and even get creative. This year he will be a “samurai dragon” with a ninja outfit for him and a dragon costume for his wheelchair.
“We make sure that everyone can transform for Halloween,” said Tara Hefter, a representative of Disguise Costumes, a leading manufacturer.
But many families still prefer the old-fashioned approach – cardboard, glitter, and lots of elbow grease. We spoke to several families about their experiences in finding adaptable costumes for their children.
They found costumes for the whole family.
Samantha and Justin Boose, Los Angeles.
Finding the right Halloween costume for Julian Boose, a 6-year-old with Snijders Blok-Fisher syndrome, can be tricky. Due to the rare genetic disorder, Julian has significant cognitive impairments and refuses to wear certain clothing and fabrics, especially outfits with buttons, fringes, hoods and pendants.
Julian is home schooled and is largely separated from other children his age. But with a little creativity, his mom, Samantha Boose, said that Halloween has become one of the few nights of the year when she sees him next to his peers.
The whole family often creates group costumes that take Julian’s sensory problems into account. When they had all dressed up as superheroes, Julian’s cloak was attached to the back of his pajama shirt with Velcro instead of an irritating tie around his neck. In 2020 they were all skeletons, but Julian’s pajama costume didn’t have a mask or hood, which would both irritate him. That year, she found a zip-up fleece onesie spacesuit for Julian while the rest of the family dressed in space outfits.
He lights up the night.
Molly and Justin Molenaur, Columbus, Ohio.
Molly Molenaur said her 7-year-old son Miles relies on structure to give stability to his life when so much can seem overwhelming or unsafe. He loves the convenience of a calendar, she said, and anticipating events. Halloween was a challenge, however, as Miles is deaf-blind, with impaired vision and hearing. He doesn’t like TV characters or superhero outfits because he can’t see them on the screen.
Instead, Ms. Molenaur turned her son into “Light Up Boy” last year by sewing LED light strips into a zippered romper suit. Miles could tell when the lights were dimmed and changed color, flickering from blue to green to purple. He put his hand in the air, dizzy and glowing, and glinted down the street.
A wheelchair turns into a magical car.
Laura Walker, Harrison Township, Michigan.
On a whim, Laura Walker sent an application to the nonprofit Magic Wheelchair in 2017, but assumed she would never hear from again. Their daughter Kendall has spina bifida and the organization makes and donates intricate costumes for children with disabilities.
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Just two years later, the group responded and offered to redesign the then 8-year-old Kendall’s wheelchair with a “My Little Pony” theme – with Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie moving her chariot chair down the street draw. “It was the best time my baby ever had,” said Ms. Walker.
Now 10, Kendall is out of her pony obsession, said Ms. Walker; she’s more interested in dressing up like the Korean pop stars from Blackpink. Ms. Walker will be painting the rims of her daughter’s current wheelchair for Halloween this year in bright neon colors so that they shimmer when she drives around the local trunk.
“The other kids almost want to be like him.”
Noelle and Quentin Delroy, Chico, California.
When Noelle and Quentin Delroy’s son Stellan got his first wheelchair around the time he was 5, they wondered how they would deal with Halloween. The family combed their house for materials – like moving boxes and Mr. Delroy’s drums – that they could use in a makeshift costume for their son, who has cerebral palsy. Since then, they have spent each fall preparing for their son’s Halloween costume, running back and forth to the craft store, and spending the nights tinkering with piles of cloth and felt in their garage.
It was more than worth the effort, they said, because Halloween was something their son could “fully participate” in. If Stellan goes to school in costume, “the other kids will almost want to be like that,” said Mr. Delroy. At 9, he’s non-verbal, but you can tell by the look on his face how excited he is to see each costume. This year Stellan will be a punk rocker with a cardboard drum kit that fits over his wheelchair.
‘Everyone deserves Halloween.’
Father Young, Oakland, California.
Ayah Young’s 8-year-old son Coltrane was born with Joubert Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that kept him in and out of hospitals for the early years of his life. When he was younger he used a wheelchair, which became a challenge for Halloween costumes. So she used cardboard boxes and hot glue to make box tumes. One year he was Thomas the Tank Engine, another he was Marshall of “Paw Patrol”.
The highlight of the holiday may have been the reactions of other children who seemed genuinely jealous of Coltrane’s costumes, Ms. Young said. “Usually children don’t know what to do with it,” she said of his disability. “But on Halloween they said, ‘This is epic. This is the costume I would like to be in. ‘”
Coltrane does not currently use a wheelchair, but Ms. Young is still creating his costumes that address his sensory issues. She focuses on what she called “pajama-based” outfits that are less itchy and don’t touch Coltrane’s ears. The costumes often take weeks to make – they are made one by one night after night until they have a finished product. “Everyone deserves Halloween,” she said.
A father remembers his son’s joy.
Rich and Julie Kuehn, Edmonds, Washington.
On the morning of Halloween in 2019, Rich Kuehn’s son Jacob, a 4-year-old with cerebral palsy, came downstairs for breakfast and gasped. “This is my police car!” he squealed. Mr. Kuehn had set up a buzzing toy siren next to his family’s dining table to accompany a cardboard police car that could slide over Jacob’s wheelchair. When he thinks back on Halloween, Mr. Kuehn does not remember the trick or the treat, but the happy reaction of his son to the siren.
Nowadays, Mr. Kuehn Jacobs plans Halloween costumes up to two months in advance. This year Jacob wants to become a soldier and Mr. Kuehn has made an army armor out of cardboard for Jacob’s wheelchair. While adaptive Halloween costumes became more commonplace, he still had difficulty finding creative options for Jacob and planning his son’s costume in addition to those for his 9-year-old and 12-year-old daughters. But he comforts him knowing he isn’t the only parent figuring out how to change the vacation.
“It’s amazing how many more families and children like ours there are,” he said.