Happy holidays everyone! While a lot of us here in the United States and the western world are bombarded with Christmas decorations and events throughout our local areas, my family was excited about one specific event. Our local mall had a sensory-friendly Santa meetup for kids with sensory needs. Anjali falls under this group of children, and I was very grateful that this community of kids was not excluded from these festive events. Is a sensory-friendly Santa common? What events are sensory-friendly throughout the year? What does it even mean for an event to be “sensory-friendly?” All of these questions popped up in my head and I set out for answers. I hope this post can help family members of special needs children find these events and for others to understand the importance of these events.
First of all, what does it mean for an event to be “sensory-friendly?” A simpler explanation would involve first looking at the word “sensory.” Many special needs children are sensitive to the sounds, lights, or colors of their environment. For example, the bustling noise of people in a mall may seem normal to us but might have an impact of greater magnitude on a special needs child. This is specifically the case with Anjali. Each special-needs child has unique sensory needs. Another example is explained by Jennifer Lovy when she writes for the Friendship Circle Organization about how her son’s sensory-friendly birthday party meant “no loud music, no dark skating rink, and no flashing lights.” The formal definition for a sensory-friendly or autism-friendly event is explained by The Place for Children With Autism as an “environment [that is] . . . moderate and structured. If you’re curious about the environmental accommodations available for a sensory-friendly event, always ask to make sure you or your child’s needs can be met before attending.” With a clear understanding of what a sensory-friendly event is, we can now look at the different options of events throughout the year.
I’ll start off this list of events by making it clear that I am by no means endorsing any of these events. Nor am I suggesting every family should participate in Christmas events. I am simply informing that many entertainment options exist for special needs children. An example of this a sensory-friendly Santa. Business Wire writes about this growing trend and the “partnership between Cherry Hill Programs and Autism Speaks. Together, they are presenting an unprecedented 741 events in 581 shopping destinations across the U.S. and Canada on November 24, December 1 and 8, 2019.” The festive Christmas season isn’t the only time sensory needs are considered for special-needs kids. AMC theaters have partnered with the Autism Society to offer “[a] Sensory Friendly Film program . . . available on the second and fourth Saturday (family-friendly) and Tuesday evenings (mature audiences) of every month. Please check your local theatre listings for specific showtimes.” The Friendship Circle Organization shares more events including “a number of Major League Baseball teams [offering] sensory friendly evenings (often on Autism Awareness Night) . . . [and] local Pump It Up [continuining] to offer sensory jumps once a month”
These events are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of sensory-friendly activities across the country. The point I am trying to make through this post is how necessary these events are. We take for granted how our bodies and senses aren’t sensitive to the everyday sounds and sights of the world. These same aspects of society are bothersome to almost every special-needs or ASD child. Despite this, these children still deserve a variety of entertainment options just like us. So the next time you consider watching a movie or going to your local Christmas event I hope you consider options that accommodate for your special needs child. The following is a helpful link to find sensory-friendly events for your child: https://www.autismspeaks.org/events. I hope this article helped others learn about the sensory needs of special needs children and understand the importance of these events. Best of luck to all for 2020!