As the leaves began to fall and the temperature started to drop, a witch’s brew boiled at the Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum (MBCM).
In October, the Museum brought back a version of sensory friendly Halloween, called Sensory Friendly Spooktacular, where children of all ages, with all physical and mental abilities, gathered for a three-hour holiday extravaganza! About 50 local children, friends, and family attended!
Sensory friendly refers to preparing a mindful environment for people with sensory processing disorders or dysfunctions. It ranges from lowering lighting and sound levels to offering quiet places and extra room for play. According to Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training Collaborative, a partnership of medical centers, centers of autism research, services, universities, and other providers, people with sensory processing differences may overreact or underreact to an environment’s noise, sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight.
Sensory processing issues are typically found in children, and commonly impact people with developmental conditions. Autism spectrum disorder, which impacts about 1 in 44 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of many conditions with sensory processing issues as a side effect.
To accommodate the needs of eventgoers, the Museum partnered with the Family Support Network of Central Carolina (FSNCC). The mission of the Greensboro-based non-profit is to support, educate, and create caring connections to those who have a child with a disability, special healthcare requirements, amongst other needs.
When FSNCC heard about the event, they were excited to partner with MBCM and start the planning process.
“By having a sensory friendly event, you are not just bringing inclusion, but you are bringing a sense of belonging for people who have to change for others all the time. You are meeting them where they are and supporting their needs,” said Tabia McKinzie, the disability community support and referral specialist/ NICU support at FSNCC. She and Nancy Micca, the executive director at FSNCC, collaborated with Museum staff to host the sensory friendly Halloween event.
Although the Museum is known for its boisterous, yet joyous noise and energy, the sensory friendly event showed its calm side.
To prepare for eventgoers, the FSNCC toured the Museum to plan ways to accommodate children with sensory processing issues. Together they devised a few changes and additions for the Museum event, including adding seating, lowering noise levels, turning off additional lighting, and creating comfortable quiet spaces for children experiencing over-stimulation. MBCM lowered its capacity during the event to provide a calming space.
Offering sensory friendly events fits MBCM’s mission “to engage all children and families in hands-on, fun learning experiences which contribute to their growth and development through paly, creation, outdoor exploration, and STEM experiences.” Making play accessible to different populations of children is crucial for their growth and development, and beneficial for families seeking options for extracurricular activities.
“Amidst the challenges of COVID, we took a step back from many of the in-person events we hosted at the Museum. Sensory friendly events were one of the experiences lost during that time. It was on our agenda to bring back these events as soon as possible,” said Stephanie Ashton, the education and edible schoolyard director.
Participants joined the holiday party by donning a Halloween costume (or not) and experienced some spooky-inspired activities!
Guests used their own bags to trick-or-treat, or decorated their own, so they could stop at each exhibit to practice their skills before Halloween night. Candy and little Halloween mementos were given out to families. In addition, the Museum offered a stress ball making craft, so kids could take their experience home!
A post-event survey was distributed to guests to share their thoughts about the event and the Museum’s capacity for sensory friendly fun. If you are interested in taking the survey or sharing your ideas to have more sensory friendly fun at the Museum, email email@example.com.