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Accessible, inclusive Halloween celebrations planned at the YMCA this weekend

Games, trick-or-treating, arts and crafts, and it's all inclusive for kids with special needs.
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Jenny Marlatt and Jennifer Phillips are planning the Halloween party at the YMCA this Saturday. Chloe Fraser attends each year and already had her Uma (from Descendents) costume picked out. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

A set of steps leading to a front door might be the scariest thing a kid sees on Halloween night, especially one who uses a wheelchair for mobility.

That’s part of the reason the Collingwood YMCA and the Children’s Treatment Network have partnered up to organize an annual inclusive Halloween party.

For the fourth year in a row, the two organizations will host a party complete with indoor, accessible trick-or-treating and other activities designed to be fun for all kids, including those with special needs.

Jennifer Phillips is one of the party organizers and she works for the Children’s Treatment Network (CTN), which operates out of five rooms at the YMCA. CTN provides physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other support for children and youth with neurological disorders and injuries that result in special needs.

“Halloween activities that most children take for granted such as climbing stairs or a neighbourhood home to ring the doorbell, or saying ‘trick-or-treat’ can be a challenge for those with special needs,” said Phillips.

So she and Jenny Marlatt of the YMCA have carefully planned a Halloween party that is accessible and inclusive.

The five CTN room doors will be decorated and ready for trick-or-treaters. Outside the door will be “Big Mack” buttons a non-verbal child can press in order to play a recorded “trick-or-treat.” A non-verbal child could also choose to use picture exchange symbols stuck to the door frame to ask for a treat. All the doors are accessible by wheelchair.

All the games planned will be adapted. Kids will be able to use the 10 sport wheelchairs donated to the YMCA. An inflated bouncy fire truck will be supervised and those with special needs will receive one-on-one assistance to use it.

At the arts and crafts stations there will be adapted scissors for those who need it and some sensory activities. Elephant Thoughts has donated some science-based activities and volunteers from the Collingwood Youth Centre will be there to help the kids with those experiments.

There will also be a sensory room where kids can go to escape the crowds as necessary. A bubble tube provides calming stimulation and bean bag chairs will make sure the kids are comfortable.

Manicures are back by popular demand, and will include all non-toxic polish.

“The emphasis is on Halloween, it’s not focused what a child can or can’t do,” said Marlatt.

Phillips said the CTN used to plan a Halloween party for kids with special needs, but she prefers the inclusive approach to encourage more interaction. It also helps kids with different needs get to know each other without focusing on the differences.

“Other kids and their parents do become more aware, but it’s not front and centre,” said Phillips. “It’s really just a relaxed environment.”

The party is well supported by the community. It’s largely funded by a grant from Gerard Buckley of Mortgage Wellness, and other community businesses who have donated food, treats, activities and volunteer hours.

The party takes place this Saturday, Oct. 27, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The event is free, but you can register online here or email Jennifer Phillips here.

 




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