Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halloween Costumes for Special Needs Children in Wheelchairs

Halloween can be a fun time for kids. There are parties at school as well as going door to door. I always found it to be as much fun for me as it was for Dear Son. For me, it was a time to celebrate him-celebrate him as a little boy plus taking pictures and having all of the wonderful memories to look back on. But Halloween for special needs children can be a little more challenging in terms of a costume. So I thought I’d share some tips that I learned over the years to help your child have the best costume ever! And of course, we are going to make the costumes (no pressure there!). I happen to think that homemade costumes are the best and that is what I want for you and your child. Read along though before you tell me you don’t have the time.

Start early thinking about what your child will be! I typically started pretty early in the year, dreaming up what I’d like Dear Son to be for Halloween. Now it’s a ton easier since we have the internet. Back in the ahem, dark ages, when Dear Son was born, we didn’t have those options. Now you can check out Martha for some great ideas. There are other sites as well. Be sure to check out some costume sites as well but remember, you aren’t ordering, you are just getting “ideas”.

Dear Son as a Chef (5 1/2 years old)

Costumes should be cute or make you laugh! My rule of thumb for all kid’s costumes is that they should be cute or make you laugh. I don’t care for gruesome costumes and I don’t think it sends the right message. Once you have the idea for your costume, you’ll have some time to think it through.

For example, Dear Son was a chef one year. I thought it would be funny to add a moustache to his face however I couldn’t get it to stay on. Finally, I just drew a curly moustache on him and it made the costume. It was perfect since he had lost his front tooth. It’s one of my favorite costumes. This chef costume is the only year where I actually purchased a costume. It was nice but I had more fun the other years when I made them.

Dear Son as the Cat in the Hat (4.5 years old)

Keep it warm! Most of the time, it can be pretty cool on Halloween so I try to choose a costume that is warm. I want to be able to have some warmth under the costume, whether it’s a t-shirt and turtleneck or something like that. It helps if you have some gloves for the costume since it keeps their hands warm. When Dear Son was the Cat in the Hat, he wore a turtleneck, a tall wool hat and white gloves to keep his hands warm.

Dear Son as the Tin Man, 8 1/2 years old.

Skip the masks and use face paint or makeup instead! I can’t speak for all special needs kids but Dear Son never liked anything on his face. Also, if your child has limited abilities, it might be challenging for them to move or remove the face mask. As a result, I never choose costumes with masks. For the tin man costume, I used silver face paint. The picture quality has declined a bit over the years however the face paint was much better than it appears in the photo.
Dear Son as a Scarecrow, 3 1/2 years old.

Make the costume! I’ve made nearly all of Dear Son’s costumes. I also like to give myself a challenge so I often would try to make them for $5.00 or less. Yes, it’s a challenge but most of the time, I had everything I needed if I just thought about it a bit. I remembered back to when I was a kid and the best costumes were always home made and were always made with what we had on hand.

In the scarecrow costume, I spent $5.00 on the mop head from Target. I cut bangs from the mop and used the bangs that I cut and attached them to velcro and put it around his wrist. I used a flannel shirt he had, along with some jeans to complete the outfit. I drew on his nose with a red colored lipstick and added a few freckles. The jeans and flannel shirt helped keep him warm and the yarn was soft so it wouldn't hurt or scratch him like straw would. As this age, he could sit in a high back chair but still used a wheelchair for transport since he couldn't walk.

For the tin man costume, I used a pair of gray, cotton pajamas underneath his aluminum foil. I had aluminum foil on hand and just purchased the silver make up. Total cost again was under $5.00.

Fit the costume to the child and to his disabilities! This sounds odd but really isn’t. We are not trying to accent the child’s disabilities but rather celebrate our child. Use the disability to make your child stand out in his costume. For example, when Dear Son was in elementary school, they did a Christmas play. I came to school for the afternoon Christmas plays and they had each classroom put on their little play/musical. Dear Son’s classroom however had the children with the most disabilities. There were kids who couldn’t hear, kids who couldn’t stand, kids who couldn’t walk, kids who had no use of their hands and arms. I wondered what his teacher was going to do! After all, what did she have to work with? That’s what I was thinking and I think it’s o.k. to be honest with you about that. They closed the drapes to prepare for this skit and the drapes were closed for some ten minutes it seemed as they played a million songs while they set up the stage. When they opened the drapes, the setting just brought tears to my eyes. It was Santa’s Workshop. All the children had on red or green turtlenecks. The child who jumped up and down all the time who couldn’t stand still was a “Jack in the Box”. He jumped up and down and didn’t stop. (Of course, they had an adult standing near the end of thhs stage so he didn’t fall off, lol.). The child that couldn’t keep her head still, was this beautiful doll. Her head rocked from side to side. Dear Son sat in his wheelchair as Santa (I learned later it was because he was the only child who had a red sweater.). My point is that the disabilities didn’t make the children stand it, their disabilities “enhanced” them.

People weren’t crying and applauding feeling sorry for them, they were applauding and crying because these children were beautiful. This teacher managed to show the beauty in each of these children. These children didn’t have disabilities that day, these children were simply children. That’s what we are trying to do for a costume.

In Dear Son's costume as the Jack in the Box, you can see how his inability to sit up straight only enhances the costume. Again, the costume was only a few dollars: paint for the box and a few pieces of foam to use for the blocks and headgear.

In addition, when I say “fit the costume” to the child, there are some costumes that won’t really work, or at least didn't work for my son. For example, Dear Son was very floppy as a baby and as a child meaning he didn’t have much tone. Costumes like a nutcracker or Little Drummer Boy wouldn’t have work because they are standing up straight or have more tone. Instead, if you have a child without tone, who can’t walk and scoots on the floor, make them a caterpillar. Get the biggest piece of faux fur you can and attach it to them, add some antennas and you have it.

Use the child’s wheelchair and tray as part of the costume! This is huge and so much fun! I didn’t think of this until Dear Son was getting much older. It wasn’t really until the Jack in the Box costume that I made where I really started getting the fact that I could use the wheelchair to help me out. In this photo, you can see how I fitted the box over the wheelchair and used the tray to stabalize the box.

Now then, now that you are going to use the child’s wheelchair as part of the costume, your world of possibilities will open up and it will definitely be more fun! Some examples of how you might use the wheelchair are:

Without a wheelchair: Fireman
With a wheelchair: Fireman in a Fire Truck!
Without a wheelchair: Princess
With a wheelchair: Princess in a castle!
Without a wheelchair: Astronaut
With a wheelchair: Astronaut in a Space Ship!
Without a wheelchair: Pirate
With a wheelchair: Pirate on a ship!
Without a wheelchair: Army Guy
With a wheelchair: Army Guy in a Jeep (For this one, I'd take a picture near the wooded area so the background would enhance the costume.)
Now tell me, would that not be too cool! I am excited already!
Embellish the details! With time on your side, you have time to think about the details a bit and embellish them. I try to exaggerate the details to make them stand out and to make it more fun.
So let’s use the example of a fireman in a fire truck. I’d paint the box a bright red. You could use spray paint or a foam roller. Paint multiple coats and allow it to dry well. You want the color to be very bright. Next, I like to use the foam sheets from Michael’s. I am not a crafter so I don’t know where else you can get them but I purchased mine there for around a $1 or so if I remember. I like the foam sheets because they come in bright colors and stand out when you glue them on the boxes. I am less excited about using more paint on the boxes because not only does it take longer but they don’t stand out as much.

Next, I’d think about what might go on fire truck: a ladder, a bell, a siren or a dog (dalmation). Now it doesn’t have to be totally accurate per se. We aren’t going to use these things however we do want it to stand out. Some ideas for a ladder might be a wooden railing from a bed (the flip up kind to keep them from falling out) or perhaps just some dowels purchased at the store and glued on the side for a ladder. You can glue on a bell, a siren (check out the toy store for those). You could also put a dalmation stuffed animal on the top of the fire truck. What little boy wouldn’t love that! Use what you have. When you have a little time on your side, you can go through your house looking for things that you could use as a ladder, a bell, a siren or dalmation. You could even use your son/daughter's communication device and program in a siren sound (provided it doesn't cause them to have seizures, lol) and then they could practice their Occupational Therapy (OT) by trying to hit the button to make the siren sound. How fun would that be? And wouldn't that be a great way to have them practice that in OT prior to Halloween?

For the castle, you can make some faux windows on it, perhaps using some aluminum foil as a window and some yarn or even colored foam for a frame, then add some jewels to the castle for sparkle, etc. It doesn’t have to be historically accurate, it does need to be fun! Check out children’s books for ideas-they typically have cartoon type drawings of castles or whatever and you can get ideas from there.
Keep it simple! As you embellish the box for the wheelchair, keep it simple. On the Jack in the Box costume, you can see I used three colors (red, yellow and blue) and kept the images (blocks) large. Don’t get too detailed. You will also notice in the children's books, the images are very simple as well. Take your clue from them.

Check out Goodwill for props/costume! Goodwill has a surprising amount of costumes for little money. In this case, why not check out Goodwill for a fire hat? By starting early, you have time to look for things you need. Don’t be afraid to ask your brothers/sisters for props for a day or even check out garage sales. Now you don’t have to do any of these things. I am just offering some lost cost ways in a recession to do these things. I always just used what I had at home.

Finish the costume a few days or even a week before Halloween! Be sure to finish the costume early so you have enough time and aren’t rushing at the last minute. It takes a lot of work to take care of a special needs child. You don’t want to short change your child’s needs by working on their costume and then not having the energy to take good care of them.

Take pictures early before Halloween! I wanted great memories and pictures to look back on. I found it much easier to take pictures before the big day. In nearly every case, I took pictures the weekend before or a few days before Halloween. I called it, “Dear Son’s Dress Rehearsal”. The reason is that there is too much pressure to try to get them ready, get yourself ready and then take pictures. This way, you can take your time, enjoy the moments with them taking the pictures and then enjoy the day again on the actual day! For Dear Son’s scarecrow pictures, I took the pictures the weekend before, on a beautiful fall day. We had some good laughs and I have great pictures.

Think about the background for your pictures! For the scarecrow, I took pictures outside since a scarecrow would be outside. For the chef, I took pictures in the kitchen, since a chef would most likely be in the kitchen.
How to enjoy “Trick or Treating” when your child can’t say, “Trick or Treat” or hold the pumpkin/candy container? By now, we’ve made our costume, taken pictures and are ready for the big day. So how can you enjoy Trick or Treating when your child can’t say, “Trick or Treat” or when they can’t hold the pumpkin or bag? It’s easy, but you need to think out of the box and not put so much pressure on yourself. Here’s how I did it:

When Dear Son was young, it felt kind of silly wanting to go Trick or Treating. I wanted to show off his cute costume and yet, he couldn’t eat candy, couldn’t hold the bucket, couldn’t say Trick or Treat, etc. I felt sorry for myself. Back then, when Dear Son was small, he was the only one in our neighborhood of 200 new homes that was in a wheelchair and disabled. I didn’t know of anyone else. I simple decided to get over it and take him out. After all, the reason isn’t to give the kids candy since I can buy that if I wanted to. It’s to celebrate our kids. It’s to see the cute costumes and to laugh. That’s why we take them. It’s as much fun for us as it is for them. Once I started taking him Trick or Treating, it was so much fun. Everyone loved his costumes and he’d get a ton more candy than the other kids and I’d often have to tell them not to since he really couldn’t eat the candy! Then one year, I got it right. I took his communication device and programmed it to say, “Trick or Treat”. I hooked it up to his foot rest since it was easiest for him to use his left foot. As we walked from home to home, he’d start pressing the “Trick or Treat” button with his foot when we got in front of the house and all the way up the driveway. Of course, by that time he was worn out and didn’t always push the “Trick or Treat” button when they opened the door. But we had a ton of fun and we laughed a lot!
Dear Son as an M & M at age 1. This was his first costume. My brother said Dear Son wasn't happy because I made him wear white tights. He said, "No man ever wants to wear tights, no matter how young they are!" I had the neighbor make the costume.

What should I do if I can’t take them out? How can I enjoy Halloween? This is really sad because I know exactly how you feel. There are times when it doesn’t make sense to take them out in the weather or they may have some medical issues going on which aren’t conductive to “Trick or Treating”. In this case, think out of the box. We don’t have to “go” Trick or Treating. Instead, why not take pictures of your child in their costume? Have them printed and send them out to arrive on Halloween? You do this at Christmastime, why not now? Who wouldn’t love to see your little postcard arrive in the mail? Or why not email it? The possibilities are endless.

Other ways to enjoy the holiday is to take advantage of the parties at school. Dress them up in their costumes and send them to school. Dear Son was always the coolest kid; he loved it when I dressed him up and sent him to school in his costume because everyone always commented on that and he loved it!
In the end, Halloween is just another holiday to celebrate our kids. The fact that our children have disabilities doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the holidays or that they can’t enjoy the holidays only that how we do it may take a little more time, a little more creativity and letting go of the picture perfect ideas that we have in our heads. As the mother of a special needs child, I often just wanted things to be easy. After all, why couldn’t I just do things like other parents? Having a special needs child is a little more work and holidays aren’t any different. But when you open your mind to the possibilities, I’ve found that it can be a lot more fun. I only wish I knew these things when he was younger, instead of having to learn them as I went along but in the end, everything works out as it should. I have some pretty exciting Halloween costumes and some lovely pictures of Dear Son. Oh, how I would love to do this all over again!
On the other hand, they are having a party at school on Friday, and word has it, the teachers and aides do dress up! Maybe I can make another costume???????
Linking to Just a Girl's Blog, Show and Share Day. To see more projects, click here.
Note: Dear Son is eighteen years old and suffers from seizures, dystonia and severe developmental delay as a result of a random mutation of the ARX gene. He also has a progressive neurological disorder and is in the later stages of the disease. He has spent his entire life in a wheelchair.


Eileen said...

I know you must be short on time to do other things but have you ever thought of contacting support groups/charities for special needs children to discuss a book for the new parents of such children? Not the usual sort but one with chapters of things they can, in a way, look forward to. You have so many tips throughout this blog on how to deal with the reality of the holidays and you have lovely pictures of it being realised with your own Dear Son. So much advice seems to come from professionals who have never had to bite the bullet of doing it for real. You have already compiled so much here and in book form it could be such a resource for parents who have just had their entire world rearranged.
best wishes, Eileen

Dream Mom said...

Thank you Eileen. I have considered writing a book, and do have a format in mind however I haven't done anything to date. It's been a little tougher this last year now that Dear Son doesn't go to school much, to have any free time for myself. I do like your idea regarding the support groups. I have led classes for support groups on getting organized but haven't discussed this type of thing.

I do appreciate your comment on the writing. There is a lot of information out there on many subjects that is very generic and written by people who are writers and don't have experience with the said topic. I try to give people information that I wish I had when Dear Son was young and when I was going through this process. Thank you again for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I remember having more fun as a kid answering the door to the trick-or-treaters and seeing them than going myself. If someone can't leave, they can dress up and do that.

Also - by your picture, so much for the theory that cats don't like being on tinfoil.

Dream Mom said...

Anon-Good thinking! LOL on the cat on tinfoil.

jenna said...

I LOVE your post and your son's history of Halloween! What a wonderful story to share with us readers! AND what a GREAT Mama you are!!! Blessings to you and your family, Happy Halloween.

Gloria (The Little Red House with the White Porch) said...

You are truly great with all of your wonderful costume ideas! You know, your ideas are good for disabled or non-disabled children! I think you just have a creative gift. I have NOT a creative bone in my body so, when I see something like these wonderful outfits, I truly am in awe of someone's great ideas. You are great! PLUS, this post was wonderful, seeing all of the loving costumes you made for you son!!

Deanna Dilley said...

I love your costume ideas. Growing up, I Ward usually a clown or gypsy. Of course that was 25 to 30 years ago. (I just turned 32 on October 14th.) A couple years ago, my cousin's little boy, now 4, broke his leg. He had to spend a couple months in a body cast. His father used a box to make Thomas the train. It was pretty awesome. The little guy loved it, despite the pain he was in. He's doing great now.

Again, I truly love your blog and costume ideas.

PS: I was also born with joint contractures and vision problems, among other things. I have been working on a poetry book for and about people with various disabilities. If interested, please check to view many of my poems.

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