By Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Program Manager Gina Brady and Pam Dewey • sensory tools, sensory friendly, sensory accommodations, inclusivity, sensory friendly environment, inclusion, sensory tools for autism, sensory tools for kids with autism, sensory bin, sensory sensitivity, sensory play, sensory bin for kids, autism, autism spectrum, neurodiversity, neurodivergent • April 28, 2022
When you walk outside into bright sunlight, you might blink to adjust to the light or reach for a pair of sunglasses. Your sense of sight has been temporarily overwhelmed by bright light. Many people with autism — as well as people with anxiety, ADHD and other disabilities — experience sensory sensitivity. Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Program Manager Gina Brady says that sensory sensitivity is like always walking around in bright sunlight with no sunglasses.
What are sensory process sensitivities?
Sensory processing difficulties can cause people to react with extreme discomfort to loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, crowds and other stimuli. Some individuals may experience sensory overload in these situations, and others may emotionally withdraw.
This makes ordinary experiences, like going to the dentist, getting a haircut or attending a sporting event very challenging. Because of this, individuals and families sometimes miss community events and shared experiences.
To make the community more accessible, organizations like Fraser create sensory-friendly events, like the Fraser Festival for Autism, presented by Central Roofing. Fraser also consults with businesses and organizations to make their events and spaces more accessible for people with sensory processing sensitivities.
But what does that mean?
Sensory-friendly, or sensory accessible, means an event or business offers accommodations for people with sensory processing difficulties. But those accommodations vary with each experience.
Brady says one of the most important elements is the atmosphere of inclusion. For sensory-friendly events, the environment is welcoming and more relaxed. It should still feel like a standard event, but with more supports to make it a positive experience for all. The social norms that might keep someone from going to an event, like needing to be quiet during a theater performance, are relaxed so everyone can be their true, authentic selves and not need to “mask” who they are.
Fraser has partnered with Children’s Theatre Company for their sensory-friendly performances. At these performances, the house lights are kept a little brighter, and the volume of the show is decreased. In this instance, the lights are brighter to create a more relaxed atmosphere. But if there are very bright lights at a venue, the lights might be dimmed to be more accommodating. The volume or lighting is turned down because people with sensory sensitivities are often hypersensitive to loud sounds or bright, flashing lights. However, some experiences can’t be modified in this way, like instruments at the orchestra, so a venue might offer sensory tools like earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.
Sensory tools like sunglasses or earplugs
At a dentist’s office, they may also offer sunglasses to individuals to block the bright lights that the dentists use. They could also provide earplugs to block out the sound of the dentist’s tools.
Often paired with other accessibility accommodations
Sensory accommodations may accompany other accessibility accommodations like American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation or real-time captioning during a performance. Accommodations can also include assistive listening devices, Braille programs or even a flexible refund policy.
Kids’ Hair worked with Fraser to create a social narrative for kids with sensory processing issues. The narrative walks kids through the steps of getting a haircut, so they know what to expect before they arrive. Social narratives can be a helpful tool for various businesses or events. At Kids’ Hair, Brady has also trained their stylists to understand how to support kids with sensory sensitivities. They also offer sensory tools like fidgets.
Sensory support team and take-a-break spaces
At the Fraser Festival for Autism, presented by Central Roofing, Brady and her sensory team will be onsite providing sensory support to anyone who needs it. There will also be two sensory tents for people to take a break in, if they feel overwhelmed. The tents will have fidgets, noise-canceling headphones, bean bag chairs and other sensory tools. North Star Therapy animals will also be at the event!
Fraser Sensory Supports, Training and Certification helps make community events, venues and activities accessible for people with sensory processing difficulties. We work with families, businesses, schools, arts organizations, sports venues, parks and events to provide sensory-friendly tips and training that make these experiences inclusive for more people.
We offer customizable options like staff training, on-site, mobile sensory support for your event or venue and social narratives for your event or business. For more information, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.