When ALL are welcome! Sensory friendly night for children with Autism Jaden's Voice Legoland Atlanta
May 4, 2018 | By: Tiffany Powell
Celebration Beyond the Spectrum- Presented by Jaden’s Voice at Legoland Discovery Center Atlanta
On Friday April 20th, children on the Autism Spectrum and their families experienced a sensory friendly and inclusive evening filled with laughter and fun at Legoland Discovery Center Atlanta. Beyond the Spectrum Atlanta was a wonderful event presented by Jaden's Voice. For two and one half hours on this particular evening, Legoland was transformed into a safe and welcoming space for children on the spectrum to enjoy their families. The lights were lowered. The music volume was turned down, and in this space the children and families played, laughed and relaxed without feeling the need to explain. It was truly beautiful. I was at this event as Jackson's Mom (my 8-year old son was diagnosed 3 years ago right before he started kindergarten) but I couldn't miss an opportunity to capture a bit of this moment.
For a few hours Jackson, Jaden and the other children present were able to just be themselves. My boy was excited to build his Lego race car on the tracks and would have stayed there for hours more if time allowed. They helped one another, and were oblivious to one another all in the same moment. They shared and collaborated as they built and modified their Lego car creations, and in an instant were singularly focused on their individual tasks at hand un-concerned with the people surrounding them.
We parents sat back and watched the scene exchanging brief, mumbled apologies for something that our respective children may have done. “I’m sorry he bumped you on his way to the finish line...I’m sorry she is dancing in the middle of the racetrack...He didn’t mean to take that from your child…” Soon the apologies faded and we took cues from our children; instead of saying, “I know they are interrupting, being too loud, not making eye contact, doing the same thing over and over and over again….” We sat back and unapologetically watched our children have fun and it was a splendid night.
The sensory friendly, and welcoming environment at Legoland brought out the best of our amazing kids and it brought families together in an apology free zone. Terri Mathews is the phenomenal mom behind Jaden's voice and is responsible for bringing this wonderful event to Atlanta. I had a cursory opportunity to thank her on our way out the door but there was so much more I wanted to tell her. I'm hopeful our paths will cross in the future. If I had more time I would have shared with her that when I asked her beautiful son his name while he and Jackson were racing their cars; He confidently introduced himself with his whole name- first, middle and last, and then said, "didn't you see my picture on the sign?" And all I could do was smile and let him know, yes I did! In an instant the children were back to racing their cars. On this night I wasn't the parent of a child with special needs and we weren't the family with "the autistic child." In this moment I didn't feel worried, anxious, apologetic or isolated. For two hours, Jackson found a tribe of kids where he could truly be himself. And, as they did their thing, we were all able to exist in a space where no preamble or explanation was needed. And it was a beautiful thing.
Many children living with Autism experience sensory processing problems that may include an overloading of all, or some, of the senses. Bright lights, loud noises, strong or noxious smells and crowds that are typically associated with outings to museums, amusement parks, stadiums movie theaters and even school cafeterias are often overwhelming for people with sensory dysregulation to navigate. These are things that neurotypical individuals may not even perceive. Still, this level of sensory input can turn even the most common activity like attending a worship service or going to the grocery store into quite a production. Children living with Autism may lack or lag behind their neurotypical peers with regards to social skills, ability to express emotion, and interpretation of social cues. Autism knows no boundaries. Its impact is widespread affecting families with no regard for race, gender, age or socioeconomic status. While it is wonderful that during April organizations and companies throughout the nation promote Autism Awareness I’m hopeful that our communities will promote and embrace Autism awareness, acceptance, advocacy and inclusion every day.