Sensory-Friendly Activities Ease Winter Blues

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“Oh, the weather outside is frightful…”

In these long winter months, many NC families are looking for indoor entertainment. It’s too cold to jump on the backyard trampoline, too icy to run at the park. Many will turn to indoor play areas, shows, and movies.

But these are not always good options for families who have loved ones with autism. Individuals with autism often are sensitive to sensory stimuli, and they may react in ways that are not typical, which can lead to judgment by others. They need a flexible and accepting environment so they can enjoy the activity.

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See a photo story from DPAC’s “Grinch”: https://spark.adobe.com/page/NBM0fNDJ6NbTF/

Fortunately, more and more businesses and organizations are offering “sensory-friendly” options so individuals with autism and their families can enjoy the same activities as other families. An example last month was the “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” at Durham Performing Arts Center, made possible by sponsors Duke Health and SunTrust. DPAC’s special matinee included adjustments to the production, including fewer loud noises and flashing lights; designated quiet sections; and volunteers to assist families.

The showing was a great success and much appreciated by area families. One parent wrote, “Thank you so much for this special show! My 6-year-old son had the best time of his life. It was such a relief to be in a theater and know your child can feel free to be who he is, without having to worry. He laughed, sang, spent some time in the aisle, and wasn’t overwhelmed by the lights or sounds (as he sometimes is).”

grinch 1.jpgAnother said, “I cannot thank you enough for today’s performance. Hundreds of families in our community went to the theater today that would have otherwise not considered it. When you have a special needs child, it is hard to get out of the house sometimes. It is hard to spend money on events that you may have to walk out of within minutes if your child’s behavior isn’t in line with norms. Today, DPAC gave us a welcoming environment. We enjoyed a show and felt the support of DPAC staff and the other families surrounding us. Children around me were laughing and cheering.”

We thank DPAC, Duke Health, and SunTrust for making this experience possible for our families!

Find activities near you

Some movie theaters in NC now offer sensory-friendly shows; check with your local theater. AMC Theatres offers them in the Charlotte and Triangle areas, saying “we turn the lights up, and turn the sound down, so you can get up, dance, walk, shout or sing! Our Sensory Friendly Film program is available on the second and fourth Saturday (family-friendly) and Tuesday evenings (mature audiences) of every month.” Check their website for more information.

ASNC Chapters are another great resource for sensory-friendly activities as well as social events that are family-friendly with a welcoming atmosphere. A few examples:

Find events on our calendar; find a Chapter near you on our website.

And finally, be sure to join ASNC’s Facebook group, where events and activities from around the state are posted.

Spotlight on the Cabarrus County Chapter

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Editor’s note: For those who have a loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a community of support can be a lifeline. For more than 40 years, ASNC Chapters and Support Groups have provided families who face similar challenges an opportunity to encourage one another, share experiences, find information and resources, and have a place where they feel welcomed and understood. These volunteer-led groups also offer education to families, increase autism awareness and understanding, and support and extend ASNC’s mission in their local communities.

Throughout this year, we are highlighting the ways each of our Chapters and Support Groups makes a difference. To find one near you, please click here or contact Marty Kellogg, ASNC State Chapter Coordinator, at 919-865-5088 or mkellogg@autismsociety-nc.org.

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For families affected by autism in Cabarrus County, the local chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) has become a sort of extended family.

“We’re there for each other. We think that’s what it’s all about,” said Maria Anthony, leader of the Cabarrus County Chapter. She explained that many residents of the area are not originally from there and so do not have a local support system.

Anthony said that when she had knee surgery, other members of the chapter took care of her family for two weeks. “We’ve kind of built a village network. We’re all friends and we help each other out.”

Twenty to 30 members attend each of the chapter’s monthly meetings, Anthony said, many of them couples attending together. The chapter makes that possible by hiring three child-care workers for each meeting.

CabarrusRunGroupTo help pay for the workers and other activities, the chapter holds the annual Cabarrus County Chapter Puzzle Run each spring. This year will be their fourth, and they’ve raised their goal to $10,000. As of this writing one week before the March 29 event, they had less than $1,000 to go.

Anthony said the Puzzle Run is a fun day for all involved. The chapter invites area resources to set up information tables, and there is a bouncy house for the kids. But what the kids really like is the running. “They’re freaky fast,” she said. “They run like crazy. They just love it.”

In addition to paying for chapter activities, the Puzzle Run raises money for grants that the Cabarrus County Chapter provides to local teachers – about $23,000 worth since 2005. The teachers use the money to buy materials “above and beyond what are provided by the schools” and to attend community-based training, Anthony said. Some have bought special stools for their students, weighted vests, and even a Nook e-reader so that students could work on apps shown to benefit children with autism.

Another way that the chapter has reached out to its community is by donating thousands of dollars’ worth of books on autism to local libraries and the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center.

Chapter leaders get together each June to decide their activities for the year. They hold a monthly meeting and have social activities about once every other month.

They also like to try a new activity or event each year. This past year, the chapter started a social group for teens and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and attendance has doubled in the past six months, Anthony said. Participants have truly enjoyed it, Anthony said, relating a comment she heard from one 24-year-old.

“He just looked at me and he said, ‘Thank you. Now I met somebody like me.’ ”

Cabarrus County Chapter

Website: http://www.autismcabarrus.com/ or search “Autism Society of NC Cabarrus County” on Facebook

To learn more about the 4th annual Cabarrus County Chapter Puzzle Run set for this Saturday in Concord, click here. You can still register on-site that morning to support local families affected by autism!