Halloween is always a busy time in Nickie Bolufé's home.
Her 12-year-old son Liam is disabled, and Bolufé creates incredible handmade costumes that adapt to his wheelchair.
"It's a lot of labor and love," Bolufé, who lives in Florida, tells TODAY.com.
Liam has a rare, genetic disorder called MCT8 deficiency (also called Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome), which causes severe developmental delays. Liam is non-verbal and he's fed by tube, so he can't enjoy Halloween candy.
His mom still wants Liam to be able to experience Halloween, so she makes elaborate costumes for him. The get-ups always include cardboard boxes for their durability and size, which she decorates with acrylic paint. "I start the costumes about four days before Halloween and stay up all night working," says Bolufé.
For many children who use wheelchairs, Halloween is the one day of the year when their mobility aids can be part of an epic disguise.
This year, Liam will be a construction worker sitting in a wheel loader, an homage to his uncle Rob. A few years ago, Liam was a firefighter to honor his uncle Bryan, who works at a New York City fire station.
Liam smiles when he tries on the creations, says Bolufé.
"I want Liam's costumes to make him feel as normal as possible, but with a little pizzazz," she says.
Trick-or-treating can be difficult for children with disabilities, including for those who use wheelchairs. Companies like Disney, Party City and Target sell adaptive Halloween costumes, but they don't work for everyone.
"Making a huge, elaborate costume is an overwhelming task and these accessible costumes make it that much easier for parents to give their kids a special experience," Ryan Miller, whose son Jeremy has spina bifida, tells TODAY.com. "My main concern is if they require children to reach over the costume to push their wheels. Each chair is unique and trying to provide something that will work for everyone is almost an impossible task."
To ensure that Jeremy's Halloween costumes meet his needs, Miller makes them from scratch, sparing no detail in what's become a fantastical collection over the past 10 years.
Jeremy's costumes have included Mickey Mouse in Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade, Captain America riding a motorcycle, a Ghostbuster in the Ecto-1 vehicle, Marty McFly from "Back to the Future" with his Delorean car, and Captain Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean" steering the Black Pearl ship.
Miller usually spends anywhere from three weeks to two months working on a costume.
Jeremy loves the attention he receives on Halloween, says Miller, noting that his costumes aim to draw people to Jeremy rather than overshadow him.
Once Jeremy entered high school, Miller stopped building Halloween costumes for his wheelchair, which frees up his family's time but leaves them nostalgic. Jeremy is content with that — this year, he is dressing as Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, a costume that doesn't require a wheelchair addition. Also, says Miller, "He has a group of friends that he wants to hang out with and a big costume would make that difficult."
Miller is advising a fellow dad in Georgia with an Ecto-1 wheelchair costume for his son, who will be a Ghostbuster for Halloween.
Miller, who works in the IT department of an auto company, has become so well-known for his artistry that in 2019, he participated in a wheelchair costume workshop, building approximately nine costumes for disabled children. "It's super rewarding to see the happiness it brings to kids and their families," he says.
Stephanie Stanley of Oklahoma says she loves making Halloween costumes for her "sweet and sassy" son Payton, using materials like cardboard and hot glue.
The 9-year-old has medical issues such as a brain malformation, chronic lung disease and epilepsy.
"Payton is non-verbal, but he is very expressive with his eyes," Stanley tells TODAY.com.
Although Payton doesn't go trick-or-treating due to a weakened immune system, his mom's costumes, handmade for his wheelchair, are perfect for family photos. One year, Payton was a military member so Stanley crafted a tank to fit over his wheelchair. Another year, she paired Payton's pilot costume with a homemade plane from the movie "Top Gun."
Stanley has also built costumes to accommodate Payton's mobility harness: A U.S. president at the pulpit with mom playing a Secret Service agent and a "parachuting aviator" accompanied by Stanley dressed as the sky.
This Halloween, Payton's costume is a boat operator, which Stanley is in the process of creating.
"We always want Payton to feel included and feel special for every holiday," says Stanley.
Amy Castanon's 15-year-old son Isaiah has cerebral palsy, and his mom's handmade costumes are an eye-catching addition to his wheelchair.
"Isaiah loves to dress up, except for face paint," Castanon, a makeup artist in New Mexico, tells TODAY.com. "I would love to create amazing looks on his face but he won't let me!"
Castanon enjoys spreading awareness about wheelchair use on Halloween.
"Trick or treating is not easy for us, especially in the dark, so I try to put lights on his wheelchair so people know we're coming," she says. "We go all around our community in costume."
On Halloween, Isaiah has dressed as The Mad Hatter from "Alice in Wonderland," Ernesto de la Cruz from "Coco" and a Lego policeman.
Sometimes the mother and son pair up for joint looks: Frankenstein and his bride, Wayne and Garth, Batman and Robin and Beetlejuice and Lydia. Isaiah's wheelchair always represents a related prop.
This Halloween, Castanon and Isaiah will be aliens with a UFO.
“Halloween is about having fun on a day like everybody else,” she says.