Providing an alternative experience for
those with Sensory Processing Disorder
By: Mary Koczan
One of the best things about being a kid is getting out of the house and encountering the world. Some memorable moments in a child’s life include riding a rollercoaster at an amusement park, going to a zoo and seeing a giraffe or tiger for the first time, or watching fireworks on the 4th of July. However, for many children and their parents, these experiences can seem out of reach.
According to a CDC study, about 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder. Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can include being withdrawn from personal interactions, speech and language difficulties, erratic body movements, obsessive tendencies, and sensitivity to light, noise, and textures.
While experiencing sensory processing issues is an associated symptom of autism, some argue that Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition all on its own. If your child or one of their friends has sensory sensitivity issues, there is a welcome and growing trend among businesses and event centers to offer an alternative, more subdued experience.
- Enjoy a Movie
An afternoon out at the movies is a great way to relax on a rainy day. Whether your child is eager to see their favorite cartoon character or comic book hero on the big screen, the movie theater in itself can be intimidating for some. Luckily, many national movie theatre chains now offer sensory-friendly shows.
Regal Cinemas My Way Matinee
Held on the second and fourth Saturday of every month at 10:30, families are encouraged to participate and enjoy a Sensory friendly showing of popular movies at select Regal Cinema locations. Visit their My Way Matinee page for participating theatres.
AMC partnered up with the Autism Society to help bring sensory friendly films to viewers. Perfect for movie lovers of all ages, AMC Theatres provide family-friendly and mature audience screenings every month. Sensory family-friendly movies are shown on the second and fourth Saturday while Tuesday evenings are reserved for PG-13 and R rated movies.
These shows allow kids to enjoy a movie comfortably. Instead of walking into a pitch-black theatre with the sound blaring and everyone silent, kids are allowed and encouraged to get up and move around, talk, and watch the movie with the house lights dimmed and the sound lowered.
Whether you’re interested in attending a movie with your child or are thinking about what to get a friend who has a child with special needs, consider asking for or buying an AMC Theatre or Regal Cinemas gift card. It’s a great gift for parents who want to check out a sensory friendly event but are not sure how their kid will react to it.
- Catch a Show
If you know a child that is destined to be onstage, attending a Broadway play or other performing arts show can be a life changing ordeal. The sound of the instruments in the orchestra, the decorative scenery, and powerful singing from actors and actresses can inspire a child’s imagination and self-expression.
Popular shows such as The Lion King, Aladdin, My Fair Lady, and Wicked offer sensory-friendly performances. These performances differ as use of intense lighting (like spot and strobe lights) are removed, sound is reduced, sudden or shocking elements in the performance are softened, and the audience is given a narrative of the show so parents and kids can prepare for the characters and setting. Furthermore, children are allowed to move about in the aisles and staff members are available to help direct kids to quiet areas and restrooms when needed.
- Visit a Museum
Do you remember what it was like seeing a dinosaur exbibit for the first time? Or, the way you felt the first time you saw a breathtaking piece of art hanging on a gallery wall? Museums are a fantastic way for kids to learn and connect with nature, history, and art.
Many institutions across the country now have specific days or hours set aside for families looking for a sensory-friendly experience. These times allow children and parents to walk around the museum and engage in exhibits in a more comfortable way. Noise cancelling headphones, reduced sound and lighting, sensory specific activities and smaller tour groups mean kids can enjoy the museum at their own pace.
Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, PA
Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY
Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA
Museum in Seattle, WA
San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum in San Diego, CA
However, the number of institutions offering this kind of relaxed experience is growing. Contact your local museum or visit their website to find out more information. Often times, a discount is available for ticket purchases.
- Take Them to a Game
Attending a sports event is crazy, even for adults. The traffic, the parking, getting into the arena or stadium, getting a snack, and finding your seat can be an overwhelming ordeal. Because of this, a lot of kids haven’t had the chance to go to a professional baseball game or basketball game because of this.
Thankfully, many sports venues now offer break rooms where kids can go to escape all of the intensity. These rooms are quieter, equip with comfortable furniture, soothing lights, stress reducing activities and items, and calming visuals. Before getting tickets to the next home game, contact the venue to see if they have a break room available or if they have a sensory friendly family night.
Lastly, there are many extensive lists your can find online that will provide you with even more great ideas for sensory-friendly events and places to visit. The next time you are traveling, simple do a few searches for events and sensory-friendly venues, locations, etc. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can find!