It happens every year, not long after my birthday and before the President pardons a turkey. A few weeks before Halloween, I start seeing pictures and stories on Facebook about how to deck out a wheelchair to be part of an amazing costume. I love the concept, and my family and I did it often when I was a kid. I dressed up as a sick clown one year (nobody really got it) and a basic car accident victim the next. We used lots of bandages for that costume, and plenty of ketchup. 🙂
There were several years that surgeries and their subsequent huge body casts kept me from participating in the festivities. Those were the years that I scored tons of candy. Uncle Bill, a family friend who lived down the street took care of things. When my brother and sister were out trick or treating in the neighborhood, Uncle Bill simply delivered huge bags of candy to me.
One year though stands out to me above all the rest. The idea came from my physical therapist at the time. For my costume, we took a standard hula hoop and stretched it around the frame of my wheelchair. Then we spread a white sheet over the hoop and filled it with white balloons. My dad rigged a shower head to go above me, I wore light tan clothes and held on to a rubber duckie. Just like that, I went trick or treating as someone who was taking a shower. It was a kick! And I remember how I felt like it was really cool to be me when I went out and got candy that year.
So these days it warms my heart when I see kids with disabilities all decked out for Halloween. My favorite picture from last year was of a two-year-old boy who was nonverbal and used a walker to get around. His parents transformed his walker into a kissing booth and every time he got kissed, he apparently had a wicked little grin. The picture was classic. A few years before that, there was a picture that went viral on Facebook of a boy who had spina bifida. His parents turned his wheelchair into an ice cream truck, just for the day. And a whole slew of my friends thought that was cool. That picture was forwarded to me about a dozen times.
Why do I love pictures and stories like this so much? Anybody who knows me even slightly knows that I am passionate about inclusion. The title of my book even says that we are More the Same than Different. But to me, inclusive costumes for Halloween say even more than that. There are some parents who can explain what I am trying to say a little better than I can.
Recently I read a story about Tony and Deanna Alfano, who create an awesome Halloween costume every year for their 9-year-old son Anthony who has cerebral palsy and is nonverbal.
“It’s a nice break from the everyday watching other kids run down the block, kick a ball, play with their friends,” his mom said. “You can tell he wishes he could do those things.” I can relate to that. Although my challenges are not as severe as Anthony’s, I can remember how hard it was to look at kids doing something that was physically impossible for me and to think “Wow! I wish I could do that. I want to be you.” The feeling wasn’t constant and I can’t even remember if it lasted a long time, but it came up in unexpected ways and it was never pleasant to experience.
The thing I love most about Halloween for kids with disabilities is that it is a day that allows kids to be something that they want to be but usually are not. For 364 days per year, they might be seen as the kid with spasms, or a stutter or the kid who can’t feed themselves. Most days that is where the analysis of other people ends, and that is understandable. It is easy for people in our society to only focus on what is right in front of them. But in an outrageously cool Halloween costume, kids with disabilities (and all other kids) get to be whoever they want to be, just for a little while. And if their costume is the envy of the neighborhood, then anyone who sees them can look and say, “Wow, I want to be you!”
Turning the tables is good therapy sometimes, even if it is only for a day.
So I applaud all the adults in the lives of kids with disabilities who are taking the time to make costumes that are amazing. Doing so helps in so many ways…
Happy Halloween everyone! And to the kids with disabilities in the totally cool costumes…You look great! And Wow! I want to be you!