10 Tips to Ask For a Sensory Event

I am constantly asked how my family attends so many sensory events. People will say…’You must live in a really understanding community.’ I just laugh. Every sensory event that we attend is because I asked them to have one. And then I asked ten more times. My son is nearing seven years old. We have been missing out for way too long. We want to join the community and have fun too.

Yes, my son has autism. Yes, he is loud and rammy and busy. Yes, he processes joy and interactions differently than most kids. My answer to that…SO WHAT. We still want to go!

I started by identifying the events that my son would love (trains, PBS characters, trampoline parks) to attend and it dawned on me that he could attend those events if they just made a few adjustments for him. Think lowered lighting, less people, quieter music, no lines, no waiting and understanding people. That’s it. That’s all we needed. It overwhelmed me though. I was scared to ask for accommodations and honestly, I didn’t even know where to start.

As my son gets older though the isolation is getting greater. I don’t want my son to miss out either. I also want to note that these events are every bit as much for the siblings and family as the child with a disability. Attending events as a family is a rarity in our world. Until now.

I’ve also learned that most, if not all, businesses want to work with the special needs community. They just don’t know how. The idea of throwing a sensory event is overwhelming and they don’t know where to start. This is where you as a Super Parent comes in! Here are 10 tips to get started.

How To Ask a Business to Host a Sensory Event

  1. Identify 
    What types of activities does your child like to do but can’t because it’s too overwhelming or not accommodating? The sky is the limit here. Maybe you want to go to a restaurant or visit a theme park but you can’t because of the crowds or lines. What exactly does the event look like with sensory accommodations? Write them down.
  2. Do Your Research
    What businesses offer the activities that you are looking for? Once you find one do a google search and see what the business currently offers for special needs families. My guess is it’s going to be very little. Take note of their hours and days they are closed. When you ask for a private event it will typically be before the business opens or on closed days. Don’t get discouraged yet!
  3. Ask For Support
    It’s all who you know friends! Ask schools, special needs groups and elected officials to support you. A phone call from a Police Officer or a county commissioner goes a long way. Whenever I first ask a business to make accommodations for my family I always feel pretty insignificant. That is until I realize that events like these bring communities together. Reach out!
  4. Talk To Other Parents
    Our best resource on this special needs journey will always be other families. Use them! Reach out on Facebook groups or to families in your child’s school. Ask if they would be interested in helping you advocate. A few weeks ago I reached out to the Science Museum of Minnesota and asked them to have a sensory showing of their latest Omni-Theater movie. Not only did they agree, they offered to do a focus group and private tour for parents of kids with special needs. AMAZING! So, I invited six other parents and two adults with autism. It’s going to be fantastic and think about much we will learn!
  5. Call And Then Call Again
    This is the frustrating part. You know what you want and why you need it. You know the business that you want to work with for the the event. So you call. And you get shot down. It feels like you can’t get to the right people or that no one understands what you are asking for. My advice, keep calling. Send emails. Leave voicemails. You will eventually get to the right person. I promise. And once you do, ask for a face-to-face meeting. Remember to be unbelievably persistent and friendly. Come at it from two equal parts: Emotional ‘it’s for the children‘ and ‘this will be so great for your business!’
  6. Explain Who You Are and Why You Are Calling
    Once you get through to the right people you need to explain exactly what you are looking for and why you are looking for it. Be honest. Tell them about your child’s disability. Tell them how great their event/business is and how much it means to your child.
  7. Explain What You Want
    This is where you tell them exactly what you are looking for in a sensory event. A sensory event is just like the regular event. Remember that. It just has a few accommodations. I always ask the business to limit the amount of people that can attend. Remove the lines and allow strollers and wheelchairs. Limit the attendance to families with special needs children and their siblings. Ask them to allow children to keep their speech device or comfort items. Other things to think about: a safe space for the event, different snacks, a quiet place to relax. If you need something just ask for it.
  8. Offer To Do Outreach
    So they said yes! Yay! The business you are reaching out to most likely does not know how to do outreach for this event. They worry that if they open it up to everyone they won’t be able to limit who attends. They also worry about what language to use in their outreach. Can they say ‘special needs?’ Is it offensive? You are also immersed in the world you are trying to reach. You are on Facebook groups for your child’s disability. You are involved in your kids school. Offer to help with the outreach. You will reach more of the audience then the business can.
  9. Do A Test Event
    Have a dry run of the event. Visit without your child and see what accommodations need to be made to make the event successful. You are the expert and the business will appreciate you pointing out dangers and issues before they happen. For example, block all unnecessary staircases. Also, take special note of the bathroom situation. This can be a struggle.
  10. Help Train Their Staff
    Most people have never worked with kids with disabilities and they get nervous at the thought. They are human. I always provide a typed up tip sheet for employees. For example, station a staff member at the exits and never let a child sprint out the front door. That’s a huge one. I also explain about slow processing times. A staff member they may say something to a child who appears to not be listening and feel that the child is being rude. The child may be nonverbal as well.

And lastly, have fun and relax. My biggest take-a-way from every single sensory event I attend is the feeling of calm. My kid isn’t the craziest one. He isn’t the only one melting down. I’m not having to constantly chase and worry because everyone in attendance is just like me. And the kiddos are just like Cooper. So, relax. Have fun. And thank the business that hosted!

This blog is part of a three part series. Coming soon: ’10 Tips To Host a Sensory Event’ and ’10 Tips to Enjoy a Sensory Event.’

Prev post: I’m Thankful For You: The Founder of CASANANext post: I’m Thankful For You: My Children’s SLP

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  • Diana Fitts

    November 12, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    It's so good to highlight the idea that you can take things into your own hands and plan your own sensory events! While it may […] Read MoreIt's so good to highlight the idea that you can take things into your own hands and plan your own sensory events! While it may be a lot of work, it is also so worth it. Best, Diana www.thesensorytoolbox.com Read Less

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