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    Autism Society of Minnesota
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Dec
04

Sensory accommodations help everyone feel welcome

boygirlpaintwebWith a diagnosis rate of 1 in 68, autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in Minnesota. Often, the sensory differences and social challenges of autism make it difficult for families and individuals affected by autism to integrate into the community. In order to accommodate those touched by autism, many organizations and activity planners are responding with sensory friendly programming that allows for community engagement and the development of connections with others.

boygirlpaintwebWith a diagnosis rate of 1 in 68, autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in Minnesota. Often, the sensory differences and social challenges of autism make it difficult for families and individuals affected by autism to integrate into the community. In order to accommodate those touched by autism, many organizations and activity planners are responding with sensory friendly programming that allows for community engagement and the development of connections with others.

“Sensory-friendly programming allows our families to enjoy the same opportunities any family or individual wants: access to concerts, movies, plays, and other community events,” Jonah Weinberg, AuSM’s executive director said. “Planning for accommodations is the first step in making the community accessible to families on the spectrum.”

Accommodations can range from making fidgets available to allowing for special, non-crowded hours, to dimming or removing fluorescent lighting. Businesses and organizations are realizing that making accommodations and planning sensory-friendly days or activities has a large payoff. 

Deb Girdwood from Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) said, “The Autism Society of Minnesota played a key role in the development of sensory friendly performances at Children’s Theatre Company. CTC learned the value of preparation and created ‘Coming to CTC’ social narratives, videos, and a show-specific guide for each Sensory Friendly production. Sensory Friendly shows at Children’s Theatre Company are an extra-inclusive, safe space for families and individuals affected by autism to enjoy theater and build community.”

In addition to partnering with CTC, AuSM has worked with The Works Museum, Stages Theatre Company, the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, Valleyfair, the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Lake Superior Zoo, the Great Lakes Aquarium, and more, training employees on how to better serve families and individuals with autism. Autism training has led to sensory-friendly events, and also has made for greater autism awareness and accommodation plans on a daily basis at these businesses.

 

“Offering sensory friendly programs and events is all about creating a safe, accepting, and accommodating opportunities for families and individuals with autism and special needs. The adjustments made are usually so simple, but the impact is inspiring and it reaches far beyond a day or a special event,” said Ellie Wilson, AuSM’s Manager of Education, Training and Programs. 

This season includes a variety of sensory-friendly events for families and individuals with autism including a concert series with the Schubert Club; sensory-friendly movie showings at the Carmike Wynnsong Cinema in Mounds View; plays at Children’s Theatre Company and Stages Theatre Company; and sensitive-Santa events at Eden Prairie Center, Northtown Mall, and Southdale Center.

Kris Giesen, mom of a daughter with autism, notes that the increase in sensory friendly programming allows her family to have experiences like every other family. “My daughter wants so much to have experiences like all her friends but it is impossible for her to be successful for any length of time in those environments,” Giesen said. “The sensory friendly programming that AuSM encourages has allowed my daughter to be ‘normal.’ It has helped us connect with other parents and to be able to share the joy of our unique child in an environment that celebrates each child. The smile on her face and her feeling of belonging and success is worth every second of that planning, and then some.”