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Terri Mauro
BY Terri Mauro

12 More Sensory-Friendly-Style Events We’d Like to See in Our Communities

More and more, we hear about theaters and stores having sensory-friendly or autism-friendly events. They’re reaching out to families of kids with special needs and helping them get out of the house and do things most kids take for granted.

That’s a wonderful trend, and it’s one we’d love to build on. Why stop with shopping hours with the lights dimmed or movie showings with the lights up and noise allowed? Here are twelve more sensory-friendly or special-needs friendly events businesses could start working on right now.

1. Touch Everything Day

Imagine if you could take your child to a store and not have to run around behind whispering “Don’t touch! No! Put that back! Stop!” Maybe you’d actually get to relax and buy something! Let’s have a “Tactile Friendly Shopping Day,” for which merchants move breakable stuff to high shelves, put stuff not easily destroyed in kiddie reach, and let children who need and like and want to touch everything get their run of the place.

2. Noisy Restaurant Night

We’ve all heard of restaurants who make it clear they’d just as soon you and your child who is unable to sit still and be quiet and eat neat not be part of their clientele. But surely there are eateries that might embrace us with a special night in which all rules are off, everyone’s cool with the din, forks thrown on the floor are cheerfully replaced, standing in booths is all good, and anyone who complains will be forced to leave while everyone else cheers.

3. Fountain Swimming

Oh, those pretty fountains at the mall. You’ve seen us steering our sensory-seeking kiddos away from the lovely blue water. How about a “Sensory-Friendly Fountain Splash Day.” We’ll spend any coins our kids retrieve in the food court, we promise.

4. Everybody Scream!

Our kids with special needs and sensory issues may melt down at any time for reasons that are clear only to them and their nervous systems. It’s hard when we know their screams are bothering people, but it’s not always possible to make it stop. Really, though, be honest: don’t we all feel like screaming for reasons of our own now and then? A “Sensory-Friendly Scream Day” would make it okay for anybody and everybody to just go ahead and shriek.

5. Stop the Escalator

Escalators — especially the down ones — can be treacherous for kids whose sensory issues affect the vestibular sense and make balance an issue. Kids who have proprioceptive issues and a problem knowing where their body is in space can also have a hard time knowing where and when and how to step. So it would be super-duper sensory-friendly if you could just turn off the dang escalators for us instead of making us scurry all over the place searching for elevators. “Sensory-Friendly Step-Up Day” sounds great, thanks!

6. No Lines

One of the kindest things you can do for kids with special needs — and their parents, goodness knows — is not make them wait for things. So while you’re planning your sensory-friendly showings, movie theaters, how about sensory-friendly snack-bar lines that move at such a rate that kids don’t use up all their patience and ability to pay attention before they even get in the theater, or one parent doesn’t miss the first third of the movie waiting for popcorn. If you want to, I don’t know, just distribute free snacks to all of us right in our seats in a sort of “Sensory-Friendly Snacking” day, that’d be cool.

7. Moms Get Massages

All right, this one isn’t so much for the kids. But do you have any idea how long our obsessive kiddos can spend looking through Every. Single. Matchbox. Car. before finding the perfect one? That’s a lot of patient standing we moms are doing. If someone was to come along with a back rub, it’d put us in a buying frame of mind.

8. Checkout Lines with No Stuff

If grocery stores wanted to name a day when they’d clear all the last-second crud our kids go after and let us just pay for our groceries in peace, wouldn’t that be nice? Reduce the sensory overload!

9. Unified Mini Golf

Really, there’s no reason why we have to golf in neat orderly groupings that wait their turn, causing those hurrying up slower golfers and those slowing down quick ones plenty of stress. A special night of golfing as one big happy community, playing through at will and going through the course in no particular order, would allow everyone to get in the swing.

10. Noisy Library Day

Letting kids make noise in a movie theatre is nice. So how about extending the “talking and running around is okay” vibe to that bastion of quiet and glaring looks at noisemakers, the library. Not all the time, but regular “Sensory-Friendly Library Days” that can let our less-inhibited young readers express their boisterous full-bodied enjoyment of books would be appreciated.

11. Flexible Story Time

And while we’re at it, libraries and bookstores, some kids with sensory issues need to move around to listen. Perhaps some of your reading events could allow for hopping and jumping and walking and rolling around rather than sitting politely in a circle?

12. Anything Goes Gymnastics

So many moms of kids with special needs have had the experience of bringing their differently attentioned kiddo to one of those toddler gymnastics classes and being humiliated when their little one was more interested in, say, counting the mats stacked in the corner than anything the teacher had in mind. With that age group, honestly, does it really matter what they’re doing? Turn ’em loose. “Chaos-Friendly Gym Day” sounds pretty good to me.

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Terri Mauro

Written on March 10, 2017 by:

Terri Mauro is a former blog manager for Friendship Circle and Parenting Special Needs guide for She is the author of 50 Ways to Support Your Child's Special Education and The Everything Parents Guide to Sensory Processing Disorder. You can read more of her work on her website Mothers With Attitude and listen to her every weekday on the Parenting Roundabout Podcast. Terri has two children with special needs adopted from Russia in 1994.

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