I recently had a play date with a very close friend of mine who’s child is sensory sensitive. Are you familiar with the term? Yea neither was I until this beautiful little one came along. So lets catch you up to speed… Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is usually first recognized during the toddler years, when parents notice that a child has an unusual aversion to noise, light, shoes that are deemed too tight and clothes that are irritating. Sensory processing problems are now considered a symptom of autism because many children and adults on the autism spectrum also have significant sensory issues. However, while most children with Autism have some sort of sensory issues, not all kids with sensory issues have autism. SPD can also be found in those with ADHD, OCD and other developmental delays — or even with no other diagnosis at all.
In the particular case with this child, they do fine in calm settings with familiar adults. However if you switch to an environment where there is an overload of visual or auditory stimulation its a different story. While this can be a lot for any child, you can see the obvious terror, usually resulting in somewhat of a tantrum or tears. When you head to a park, museum or festival of sorts, this is the last reaction you want for your child who is supposed to be having fun… and quite frankly it can be terrifying for both child and parent alike. In the instance of my friend, this fear renders them powerless (so they think) and they tend to end up in the house more often than not because it is just easier (and honestly less scary).
While I don’t have the answers (heck I was today years old when I learned about the disorder), I do want to help in whichever way I can. So I decided to research some sensory friendly venues who specialize in making surroundings aesthetically pleasing for sensory sensitive children. After all, no child or parent should ever have to be afraid to have fun.
CHUCK E. CHEESE (various locations) – 1st Sunday Every Month
Chuck E. Cheese recently partnered with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) to bring you Sensory Sensitive Sundays. For 2 hours before their normal opening time they provide a sensory friendly experience that includes less crowding and a quieter restaurant environment, dimmed lighting, music turned down or off completely as well as a host of other things. The admission is free and the staff is specially trained to ensure that each guest has a fun filled visit. After all their mission is to create an environment that “allows ALL kids to be a kid”. Now keep in mind that not all Chuck E. Cheese locations participate in this program, so make sure that you check your specific location here before heading over.
SESAME PLACE (Langhorn, PA)
I was pleasantly surprised and rather excited when I learned that Sesame Place was sensory sensitive friendly. In fact… they are the ONLY theme park in the world to be designated as a Certified Autism Center. Their staff receives specialized training with focuses on sensory awareness, social skills and communication, environment and emotional awareness. There is an IBCESS guide that provides information on how each ride affects each sense for a child so you know before hand which ones to avoid. They provide noise cancelling headphones, low sensory areas as well as quiet rooms for relief when your little one just needs to take a break. While you are there, make sure to drop in (quietly) on Julia, the 4 year old puppet with Autism and take a picture. Tell her JustANJMom sent you and make sure you tag me on IG.
SAHARA SAM’S (West Berlin, NJ)
Special Evenings at Sam’s, or S.E.A.S., are offered to the community at a significantly reduced rate and are designed with the unique challenges of special needs individuals in mind. The goal is to provide a comfortable evening that allows individuals to have fun and network with other families. Their program is adjusted to include modified lighting and sound throughout the park and quiet rooms available should the fun become too much. The arcade games are turned off and the lifeguards use the whistles sparingly. Be mindful that this program is only offered about once a month with limited ticket sales for a pleasant experience. So make sure you call first before heading in. Interested in a S.E.A.S birthday party? Give them a ring and they will gladly work to make sure that your little one has a positive and memorable day!
If you are looking for a little Hollywood action, both AMC and Regal Movie Theaters offer unique movie showings where they turn the lights up, and turn the sound down, so you and your littles can get up, dance, walk, cry, shout or sing! These Sensory Friendly Film programs are available on the second and fourth Saturday every month. Please check your local theater listings for specific showtimes.
Both of these venues provide programs for your little ninja to enjoy the freedom of jumping. Sensory hours provide a quieter, toned-down jumping experience for those with special needs. Some Bounce U locations even provide occupational therapy and parent support groups held by social workers while your children attend their bounce sessions. Why is that such a bonus? Because these programs are actually health insurance covered (please check your specific coverage to see if you qualify first). Now put that co-pay to work will ya?!
If you know of a place in NJ that is Sensory Friendly, please feel free to comment below and I will be sure to add it to future stories. As always, don’t forget to follow Amari and my adventures on IG at JustaNJMom!