Chuck E. Cheese is a cacophony for the senses—buzzes and bells and screeches, crowds and music and overstimulated kids (and parents), colors and lights every which way. It’s a lot for those who don’t have sensory-processing challenges. But for people who are sensory sensitive it can be Way. Too. Much.
That’s why Chuck E. Cheese—and other spots known for sensory overload—has devoted days to those who need things to be a bit more chill. According to the Smithsonian Magazine:
(N)oise and light, along with social and language expectations, can induce stress for children on the spectrum, who are less able to self-regulate. … “Especially in children’s museums, there is a tendency to use the five senses, which is great as long as there is a way for them to turn other stimuli off so they can focus on the one thing,” (Elise) Freed-Brown says.
Freed-Brown wrote a master’s thesis titled A Different Mind: Developing Museum Programs for Kids with Autism and was working with Girls Inc. of Chicago when she died last year. She had studied what institutions can do to be more welcoming for those with an autism spectrum disorder.
Freed-Brown pointed out that sensory-sensitive events, specifically at museums, should be free of anything overstimulating, such as large crowds or bright lights, which can detract from the exhibits.
Museums around the country host sensory-friendly events for those on the spectrum. For example, the WOW! Children’s Museum in Lafayette, Colorado, has six scheduled days in 2020 for Sensory Friendly Playtime, where attendance is limited to cut down on crowds, and sounds and lights are turned down. They also provide weighted vests and noise-reducing headphones, and occupational therapists may be available to help facilitate.
The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore hosts Sensory Morning and Sensory Evening, which include a space for free play and a Sensory Break Area.
Smithsonian institutions around Washington, D.C., host Morning at the Museum, which includes early entry and sensory-friendly activities. The Smithsonian Magazine detailed one such morning at the National Museum of African American History and Culture:
“There are 63 families in the entire museum and they have free range of every floor. The lights are dimmed in some exhibitions, and in others, the sound is turned to a low volume.”
You can contact your local museums to inquire about these types of events in your area.
Chuck E. Cheese
Sensory Sensitive Sundays are specifically for kids with autism spectrum disorders or other sensory-processing challenges. It’s held the first Sunday of each month at participating Chuck E. Cheese locations, when they open two hours early and specially trained staff members are on hand.
The Center for Autism and Related Disorders provided training materials to staff members starting in 2016. There are now participating locations in 42 states and Canada. Check the website to find one near you.
Various Six Flags locations around the country have special days devoted to those with sensory challenges:
- Six Flags Great America in Chicago hosts Autism Awareness Day with designated spots throughout the park in case someone needs a break. A portion of that day’s ticket sales benefit the Autism Speaks organization.
- Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta also hosts an Autism Awareness Day. In addition to early park access, guests can partake in a private picnic buffet, “decompression areas” with sensory-friendly items and opportunities to meet with the local autism community. A portion of the day’s sales benefit the Autism Speaks’ Georgia chapter.
- Perhaps the most helpful sensory experience of all is at Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari in Jackson, New Jersey. On Autism Day, the park is closed to the public and open specifically for those on the autism spectrum and their friends, family members and educators. It has decompression areas with sensory-friendly items, music and light adjustments and available staff from the Gersh Academy, a New York school for those with autism.
Santas and Easter bunnies
Autism Speaks partners with professional photographers at Cherry Hill Programs for sensory-friendly experiences with Santa and the Easter bunny.
Check your local mall—the Scott Center for Autism Treatment estimated that more than 400 malls across the country hosted a “Sensory Santa.”
Dave & Buster’s
Dave & Buster’s locations from El Paso, Texas to Glen Allen, Virginia to Albuquerque, New Mexico have hosted sensory-friendly events with names like “Sensory Day” and “Sensory-Friendly Sundays,” when the music is turned off and the game noise is turned down. You can contact your nearest location to ask about similar events.
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