By Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Manager Gina Brady and Pam Dewey • sensory tools, sensory friendly, sensory accommodations, inclusivity, Minnesota State Fair, inclusive environment, sensory support Minnesota State Fair, Fraser Sensory Building, accessibility Minnesota State Fair,sensory friendly environment, inclusion, sensory tools for autism, sensory tools for kids with autism, sensory bin, sensory sensitivity, autism, autism spectrum, neurodiversity, neurodivergent • August 17, 2023
It’s that time of year again: the Minnesota State Fair! For many Minnesotans, that means tasting the new fair foods, visiting the baby animals, checking out the art exhibits, playing carnival games and rocking out to their favorite bands. But for people with sensory processing differences, the fair can be an overwhelming experience.
People with sensory processing differences often find bright lights, loud noises, new smells and crowds overwhelming. Many people with autism have sensory processing differences, but all people experience some level of sensory sensitivity. This can make attending events like the state fair and other community events stressful. The good news is that many more people are aware of sensory processing differences, so organizations, event planners and businesses have started to modify their events. More sensory tools are also available to help individuals regulate when out in the community.
Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Manager Gina Brady shares 8 sensory tools that people can easily take with them when they attend events like the Minnesota State Fair.
Noise-canceling or reducing headphones
A set of noise-canceling or noise-reducing headphones is a great sensory tool. If sounds from the crowd, loud music or other noises become overwhelming, you can slip these on and block out the noise. Brady says you can also use earplugs.
“Sensory tools don’t have to be fancy items,” says Brady. “You can find many of these tools around your house. Bringing them with you to a place like the Minnesota State Fair can help change the environment and make it a fun day for the whole family.”
Most people are familiar with fidgets these days. There are fidget spinners, Pop Its, squishies, monkey noodles and stress balls. Fidget toys can help people with sensory processing differences calm down by providing a different sensory input when they feel overwhelmed. This can be particularly helpful when people are waiting in line or sitting down during an activity. Even something like a keychain or a beaded bracelet can work as a fidget, as long as it has some movement that provides a distraction for a person’s hands. If you forget to bring a fidget, a variety will be available for purchase in the Fraser Sensory Building.
A chewy is a piece of jewelry with food-safe beads to chew on. For people with sensory processing differences, chewing helps regulate their bodies. Gum or saltwater taffy also works, says Brady, since both are chewy and provide the same type of satisfying sensory input.
Bright lights, even bright sunlight, can be too much for people with sensory difficulties. Sunglasses help protect sensitive eyes from too bright light. Hats or visors are other options.
You may be familiar with weighted blankets, but there are other smaller weighted items like a lap pad or a weighted stuffed animal that provide deep-pressure stimulation, which is soothing. Even carrying a backpack filled with other sensory items can provide this input. Compression clothing, which you can find at online retailers, provides the same type of deep-pressure stimulation.
Time is an abstract concept, and for some people on the autism spectrum, it can be hard to understand. Using a timer, like a sand timer or a kitchen timer, lets an individual see exactly how much time has passed. This helps them understand how much time until they can move to the next activity or how long until they’re done with their current activity. You may prefer to use the timer on your phone, says Brady, but make sure you give your phone to the individual, so they can visually see time passing.
Who hasn’t gotten too hot at the fair? Drinking cold water cools your body and helps people with sensory processing differences regulate. An ice pack or a damp cloth on the back of the neck or a wrist can also be cooling. A paper or battery-operated fan lowers and regulates body temperature.
People with sensory differences might experience food aversions, or simply prefer to eat familiar foods. Bringing along some of their favorite snacks ensures they have something they like to eat, and it can also help them remain calm and regulated while waiting in long lines.
Fraser will be at the Minnesota State Fair to support individuals and families with sensory processing difficulties. The Fraser Sensory Building features a take-a-break sensory space for people with sensory processing differences. The sensory space will be staffed by Fraser-trained sensory support volunteers, who can help individuals regulate with the sensory tools and techniques. We will also be selling handy, take-along sensory kits that can be used at home and on the go.
Fairgoers can visit Fraser from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., Aug. 24 to Sept. 4, at the Fraser Sensory Building on Cosgrove St., between Dan Patch Ave. and Wright Ave, adjacent to the wheelchair rentals and Home Improvement Building.