Summer (and sensory-friendly) fun for everyone
Sensory-friendly days are gaining in popularity at NH attractions
Going to the amusement park or movies can be a lot of fun, but if you have a child on the autism spectrum, a trip out with the typical noise, sights and smells that go along with the experience can make it a not-so-fun situation for you and your child.
A number of Granite State locations are setting aside special days and weekends to accommodate parents who have children who need a “sensory-friendly” environment.
Story Land, New Hampshire’s iconic amusement park in Glen, has hosted Autism Awareness Weekends in the past in conjunction with Autism Speaks, according to Director of Marketing Lauren Hawkins. But last year was the first time they flipped the focus from awareness to accommodating those with sensory sensitivities: Sensory Sensitive Weekends.
“We felt there was a need to do more for those on the autism spectrum. So now, as our 66th season begins, it’s our sensitivity weekend,” Hawkins said. In response to popular demand, in 2019 there will be two special weekends, June 15 and 16 and Sept. 14 and 15.
The main difference from normal operations is a decrease in sound, from background music, the rides and in the pathways, the piano and school bell, etc., without compromising safety speeches that need to be played.
“We also do quiet dining areas as best we can,” Hawkins said. There is a permanent “quiet” dining room and a calming room, with air conditioning and a few toys for those who need to regroup. For parents, days such as this enable them to relax without feeling stigmatized.
“We know there is a large portion of the community that can’t necessarily get out and go to an amusement park on any given day, so we’re delighted to provide a few weekends to make Story Land more accessible and fun for them,” she added.
Last year’s event was hosted in conjunction with Autism Speaks, and representatives from Crotched Mountain and AbilitiesPLUS Adaptive Sports attended to provide resources. A half- dozen dogs from Assistance Canine Training Services (ACTS), a North Conway nonprofit, were also on hand to meet guests.
As part of their commitment to the community, Story Land is in the process of becoming a Certified Autism Center from IBCCES in 2019. This means that 80 percent of staff will have completed autism and sensory awareness training—how to recognize, understand, and act compassionately when assisting families–and passed an exam. Once 80 percent of the staff is certified, the park will become certified.
While you’re in the North Country, Conway Scenic Railroad offers Sensory-Friendly Fridays at 4 p.m. on the Millie train. “It’s air-conditioned, so there are no open windows,” said Manager of Marketing and Events Susan Logan.
Railroad crossings on the approximately one-hour ride around Pudding Pond will be “hand-flagged,” minimizing use of the train’s horn. Each child gets a gift bag with quiet activities. Advanced reservations are required.
Let’s go to the movies
“Audience members are allowed to walk around, dance, shout or sing!” The newest Mamma Mia installment? No, that’s what Chunky’s Cinema Pub says about its monthly showings of first-run movies for kids with sensory sensitivity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other issues.
“Once a month at all locations we show first-run movies with the lights up, the sound down slightly,” said Director Mike Manetta of Chunky’s.
“We want to create an environment where parents can see a movie with their child stress-free, with no concerns about distracting other audience members. If kids get up off their seats, it’s OK — whatever it takes for them to enjoy a movie.”
Chunky’s also offers closed-captioning (at limited locations) and sound-amplifying devices. Their menu includes gluten-free options.
Cinemagic Director of Charitable Giving Elaine Adam said their theaters have been offering special showings for a number of years, at parents’ request. Sensory-sensitive showings are offered once or twice a month in each location.
“Parents appreciate the relaxed atmosphere and that they can take all of their children there,” Adam said.
Do you know of other special days and weekends for kids with sensory issues or other special needs that aren’t listed here? Let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can add them to our list.
Mary Ellen Hettinger, APR is an award-winning reporter, editor and writer, and accredited public relations professional. She won a gold award in 2015 from the Parenting Media Association for her news feature on what to do if you think your child has a mental health issue.