For many children, the arrival of a state fair is cause for celebration. But for some, the idea of attending a big, crowded, and loud event can be anxiety-inducing, no matter how badly they might want to visit with farm animals or try the deep fried Twinkies, to name a few examples. The good news? The Ohio State Fair will hold a sensory-friendly day for people with autism, creating an inclusive event where everyone can have fun.
On July 31 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time, the Ohio State Fair will turn off all of the rides' flashing lights and it will lower the volume of the event's music and attractions, according to The Hill. Fairgoers can also take advantage of an air-conditioned quiet room complete with sensory supports like fidgets and weighted lap pads, according to Scary Mommy.
"We believe in a world where everyone deserves access to their community. These new features at the fair help to create a common experience with unique considerations that allow greater access for all people," said Shawn Henry, Executive Director for Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI), according to OCALI's website.
Accommodations for ride wait times and parking accessibility will also be addressed, Henry noted.
The point of this idea is a simple one: everyone deserves to feel included and respected. "The Ohio State Fair isn’t just about food and rides – it is about community. We want to make the fair as enjoyable as possible for all Ohioans, and Sensory Friendly Morning is one way we can achieve that goal," said Virgil Strickler, Ohio State Fair General Manager said to ABC News Cleveland.
New experiences can be scary for anyone, but more so for those with autism. Realizing this, the Ohio State Fair team, in conjunction with OCALI, put together supporting items to help make the day go smoothly for parents and kids, all of which can be found on the event's website.
In order to manage expectations and responses to stimuli, parents can download a social narrative which explains the concept of a fair via a simple story and pictures.
Those attending the sensory-friendly morning can also download a first-then board, aka a visual schedule. OCALI's website also has examples of wait boards that can help fairgoers understand the concept of long lines a little better.
"Waiting is a very abstract concept for individuals on the autism spectrum. How long do I wait? Where do I wait? A wait card can provide a visual to support an individual while waiting in line for a ride, a game, food, or to pet the animals," Henry explained.
According to Autism Speaks, sensory issues are defined as an under or over reaction to most of the senses, including sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. And about 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Given these stats, it's reasonable to wonder why more fairs and events don't follow suit. The Ohio State Fair's Sensory Morning is the first of its kind, and it's expected to lead the way for more inclusive events because when everyone is included, everyone has a better time.