Adaptive Costumes Help EWU Spread the Halloween Spirit

In the run-up to this year’s spooky season, students from Eastern’s Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs have been stirring up a witches’ brew of creative Halloween costumes for 13 trick-or-treaters, ages 2 to 23, who rely on wheelchairs for mobility.

“It has been super fun. We’ve had a great time with it,” says Kaitlyn Sharp, a second year occupational therapy student who plans to specialize in pediatrics.

Kaitlyn Grunst, Kaitlyn Sharp and Lindsey Roach work with Oliva, 6, to create a custom “carriage” to match her Cinderella gown.

Sharp was among 58 physical therapy and occupational therapy students who worked in teams to fashion cardboard, PVC pipe, chicken wire, duct tape, zip ties, fabric, Christmas lights, tin pans and paint into whimsical butterfly wings, firetrucks, airplanes, horses and other fantastical costumes. 

Shriners Children’s Spokane, a project partner, pitched in to help cover costs. Lowe’s donated nearly $500 in supplies.

The project began as a way for therapy students to learn to adapt a child’s care to boost young patients’ participation in a greater number of activities, explains Lucretia Berg, assistant professor and interim program director of Eastern’s Department of Occupational Therapy. 

Some students volunteered more than 30 hours to the project. Students met with families and children to determine favorite characters and interests, then helped to design and construct costumes that fit around and onto wheelchairs without interrupting movement.

“The students are learning to communicate and work together as PTs and OTs to create adaptive devices,” Berg says.  “It has been really cool.”

Earlier this month the teams met up with families at the Health Science Building in Spokane to finalize costumes in time for trick-or-treat festivities and a parade at Riverpark Square on Saturday. 

A mini SWAT vehicle and a Cinderella carriage awaited Shelena Carpinteyro’s daughters, Judith, 4, and Oliva, 6, when they arrived for their fittings. Both girls are impacted by hypotonia, a muscular condition that makes walking difficult.

This Halloween, Judith will trick-or-treat in her SWAT uniform while gliding around in her “official police vehicle.” She’s so fully engaged in her imaginary role that she’s been lobbying her mom to dress the family’s German shepherd-husky mix as a police dog.

Judith, 4, is excited about her police vehicle that comes complete with headlights.

“They are really excited because they’ve never had a costume to go with their wheelchairs,” Carpinteyro says.

Jenna Russell, a first-year doctoral candidate in physical therapy, helped create Judith’s mini police car. The world often looks different for children who navigate life in wheelchairs, explains Russell, adding, “It’s fun to see them get something that’s made especially for them.”

As Judith’s sister, Oliva, watched her own team of therapists put finishing touches on the Cinderella carriage, she offered a helpful bit of direction: “I know what you can do…you can put more flowers on the vines.”

Fahed Mehyar, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Eastern, says he was impressed by students’ creativity and professionalism, especially in their communication with parents and the kids. Mehyar adds that he hopes to continue and expand the Halloween project, in part by recruiting EWU engineering students to help out.

Lindsay Roach, an occupational therapy major from Pendleton, Oregon, isn’t entirely sure which path she will take in her career — working with children or adults — but found that helping the children was ultimately rewarding. “OT has so many avenues and you never know where you are going to end up,” Roach says.

Read the Spokesman-Review story on the Halloween costume effort by our students.

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