For the Hansen family, going to museums and movies used to be nerve-wracking.
“I am a parent to two kids [and] my six-year-old has autism,” said Jill Hansen, “It can be difficult going to typical kid events. Those events can be loud, crowded, [with] bright, long waits and overwhelming.”
But in the past few years, that’s changed for the Schenectady family with the rise of sensory sensitive programs, many of which are hosted by the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region.
The ASGCR works with other organizations to offer “SenseAble” events every month. They’ve partnered with the Museum of Science and Innovation and the Schenectady ARC to hold “SenseAble Science” programs, as well as with Bow Tie Cinemas and the Schenectady JCC to offer “SenseAble Swimming.”
For those with sensory processing disorders (like autism or Tourette syndrome), loud sounds and harsh lights can be a problem. It can be irritating for some and painful for others, said Janine Kruiswijk, the executive director of the ASGCR. For people who are nonverbal, it can be even more of a problem because they don’t have a direct way to express it, besides covering their ears and crying or having a meltdown.
Many local families just avoid going to the movies or going to museums to avoid the pain it may cause.
Kruiswijk said that can lead to people with autism being cut off from the world.
“It further stigmatizes them,” Kruiswijk said.
But the programs help to change that. Especially with the Bow Tie Cinemas.
“It’s often the first time that [families] can take their kids to the movies,” Kruiswijk said.
Or it may be the first time they’ve felt comfortable in a theater.
“I’ve actually been asked to leave movie theaters because my son wanted to stand in the aisle,” said Loretta Longo of Latham.
Her sons are both sensory sensitive — one is autistic and the other has Tourette syndrome.
They’ve been going to the SenseAble movies for years and she said the staff is incredibly helpful: they keep the lights a bit dim, lower the sound and don’t patrol the aisles with the harsh flashlights.
“MiSci is kind enough to open early for us,” Kruiswijk said. SenseAble Science visitors get a quieter tour of the museum before regular hours and get a chance to get acclimated to the place before other visitors are allowed in, which Kruiswijk said can make a big difference.
The SenseAble Science events have become highly anticipated in one Ballston Spa household.
“It’s something they really look forward to,” said Kristina Mortensen, mother of Gavin and Ella.
Gavin is on the autism spectrum and having a quieter time to explore the museum has made a difference; it also helps that he can explore it with his sister. Mortensen said not all events cater to people both on and not on the autism spectrum.
The SenseAble events also help parents and kids connect.
“Family support is huge . . . knowing you’re not the only family facing these issues [is important],” Mortensen said.
Another parent agreed, saying: “I noticed many of the adults seem so relieved to be in an atmosphere where there is no judgment about their child’s behavior,” said Joel Dowling.
The Altamont resident has taken his daughter, Bianca, to many of the SenseAble events over the years. She’s on the autism spectrum and it can be difficult for her to play with other children.
“I enjoyed seeing my daughter make connections with other children as they interacted with the various displays. She usually stays to herself when at a playground or other public area,” Dowling said.
Beyond the programs organized by the ASGCR, Chuck E. Cheese in Latham also hosts Sensory Sensitive Sundays on the first Sunday of every month. The motion-sensor video games are turned off, the brighter lights are dimmed and the usual music is turned off.
“It’s a place my kids always wanted to go,” Longo said.
But every time they would go in during regular hours, there was just too much going on and they would have meltdowns. They’ve attended the Sunday hours (usually from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., before the location is typically open to the public) and loved it. Longo said the staff is not only accommodating but kind and didn’t make anyone feel like a burden, no matter how the children were behaving.
Other local companies, like Sky Zone in Albany, have been adding sensory sensitive business hours. The more sensory sensitive events and hours the better said, Longo.
It not only helps people with sensory sensitivity, but it gives others a chance to better understand and accept people with sensory sensitivity-related conditions.
“I think disability awareness has grown . . . [now] we’re missing the next piece: acceptance,” Longo said.
It’s one of the reasons the ASGCR’s SenseAble programs are so important. Many of the programs are offered at little to no cost for families and Kruiswijk said the Society is in need of funding in order for the programs to continue. To donate visit asgcr.org or visit paypal.me/asgcr.
Local sensory programs
- SenseAble Science: A monthly event at the Museum of Science and Innovation. For more information visit asgcr.org or visit the ASGCR on Facebook.
- SenseAble Swimming: A monthly program offered at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center. For more information visit asgcr.org or visit the ASGCR on Facebook.
- SenseAble Movies: A program in partnership with Bow Tie Cinemas in Schenectady. For more information visit asgcr.org or visit the ASGCR on Facebook.
- My Way Matinee: Regal Entertainment Group holds sensory-sensitive movie showings at the Colonie Center location. For more information visit regmovies.com.
- Sensory Sensitive Sundays: The Chuck E Cheese in Latham holds monthly sensory sensitive hours. For more information visit chuckecheese.com.