Halloween Costume Ideas for Teens and Tweens with Developmental Delays

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It can be challenging to find Halloween costumes for teens and tweens with developmental delays. Here are some ideas!

Halloween can be tough for kids with disabilites

For those with developmental delays or other disabilities, Halloween can be challenging.  For example, not knowing what to say, or the inability to say, “Trick or Treat!” can create anxiety.  And, although the world is getting better at acknowledging differences, there are many candy wardens who will expect to hear ‘trick or treat’ before doling out the goods.  For that reason, the blue pumpkin movement is helping create awareness around kids with autism, particularly those who are non-verbal.

Trial and error

When my daughter was younger, despite the preparation we’d do, it was a challenge to get her to say “Trick or Treat!”  For two years, it was instead, “Candy pleeeeeeeeeeease!” 

Another year, it was big hugs for every candy-giver.   And, if the household had a dog?  Well, she’d just dash into the house to go pet it, accordingly.  (As a parent, I’ve learned to just smile, retrieve my kiddo and say thank you as we walk out the door)

costumes can be challenging

Let’s talk about costumes.  To start, once my teen has her mind made up on a costume idea, it’s really hard to persuade her to change her mind.

Furthermore, she tends to be enthusiastic about a character or costume that is geared toward a younger crowd, which usually means that it’s not available in her teen size. 

Harley Quinn adult costume
Adult Harley Quinn Costume

At the same time, adult costumes are made for, well, adults.  Some of the costumes, particularly for women, are much racier versions of mermaids or superheros that just aren’t appropriate for my (just-turned) teen.

Layer onto that sensory challenges, and “Trick-or-Treat” just became a lot more complicated.

benefits to dressing up

Although it can be tempting to just stay home, there are a whole bunch of reasons that dress up is important for overall development (not just on Halloween!). 

  • It allows for self-expression and experimenting with new ideas, thoughts and feelings.
  • It’s a form of pretend play, which stimulates creativity and imagination. 
  • Dressing up gives an opportunity to practice regulating emotions and behavior.  Role playing encourages taking on characteristics of what they are pretending to be.  Even if only for a short time, kids must self-regulate their actions to fit what they are emulating.

Halloween costume ideas

That being said, here are costume ideas for your teen or tween with developmental delays.

Skeleton sweatshirt costume

Skeleton.  It’s pretty easy to find a black sweatshirt with a skeleton on it.  Pair it up with sweatpants, and it’s comfy, scary and warm

Cat in the Hat.  Start out with a black sweat suit.  Add a big red bow around the collar, and add the signature red-and-white striped top hat.  If your kiddo can tolerate it, draw whiskers on each cheek. Voila!

Incredibles DIY costume
Photo credit: Brit & Co.

Incredibles.  I saw this posted on Brit & Co. Firstly, start out with a red top and bottom (a sweat-suit, or a long sleeved tee and leggings).  Secondly, get black underwear, eye masks, boots and gloves, and a gold ribbon.  Last, you’ll need an iron-on Incredibles patch (I’ve seen these on Etsy for $3).  Iron the logo onto the center of the red shirt. Wear black underwear over the leggings, tuck the shirt in, and tie a gold ribbon around the waist. Put on gloves, masks, and boots to finish the look.

Doc McStuffins DIY costume

Doc Mc Stuffins.  My daughter was obsessed with her for many years, so we always had some of the accessories around the house.  Use any combination of pink-and-purple pants and shirt (even purple and pink PJ pants would work).  Get a white lab coat (adult size, from Wal Mart) and accessories like a stethoscope and of course, a stuffie!  Here’s an image for inspiration ——>

Doctor/Nurse/Surgeon.  Get an inexpensive set of scrubs (WalMart has sets for less than $20), add an accessory or two, and you’re set!

Superhero. I purchased a red adult sized tee shirt at the dollar store, and followed this tutorial to make a no-sew cape.  Since the sleeves are cut off, they can be used to sew wristbands.  In contrast, use the ribbed cuffs from an old pair of socks, felt and glue to create no-sew wristbands that will stay in place. 

Harley Quinn. The adult versions of this costume are not kid-friendly, but we were able to do the red-and-black version of HQ after finding a tee shirt on Amazon – we paired it with black leggings, a red tutu and a black eye mask.  That year, my daughter was really into Converse sneakers and had two pair, red and black – so she wore one of each to complete the look.

Poppy from Trolls.  This was a creative take on Poppy, but I used a long sleeved pink tee, black leggings, and purchased a brightly colored tutu.   Starting with this great tutorial from the How to Mom, I turned a dollar store headband (with some tulle and foam stickers) into Poppy’s hair.

DIY unicorn costume
Unicorn DIY costume

Unicorn.  In similar fashion to Poppy, simply pair any brightly colored clothing together, and slip on a brightly colored tutu like this one. Add a headband with a unicorn horn, which can be found everywhere these days.

Emoji DIY costume

Emoji. Using tee shirt paint and a long-sleeved yellow tee, make your own emoji costume.  In addition, pair it with black leggings or sweatpants. For fun and flair, we added a yellow tutu and big glasses from the dollar store to complete the look.

Adult sized Pajama Onesies.  A variety of styles are available in adult sizes:  penguins, kangaroos, sharks and more – the possibilities are endless.  My daughter has one that looks like Sully from Monster’s Inc.  that she wore to a local Comic-Con event.

Sully from Monster's Inc pajamas
Wearing Adult PJ’s as a Sully Costume

So, with a creative license and comfortable clothing, you can make a Halloween costume for your teen or tween with developmental delays that you’ll both love!

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  1. I wonder what is going to happen with mine this year – when he was two, he took his costume (pants and everything else) off – time to go home. Three, he was non-verbal. People really didn’t understand and still told him “You need to say Trick or Treat!” Four and five we told him to go trick or treating he had to go to the door and ring the bell. Which he would still do even if the family was sitting outside on the curb handing out treats 🙂 We’re on year 8 and it will be the first time he is not dressed as Spiderman. (My mind is blown). But you’re right, he does enjoy the excitement of costumes and taking on a new character. Great ideas here and great costumes!

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