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New Johnson County program offers 'sensory friendly' options for children with autism

Sensory Friendly Mondays
Posted at 11:33 AM, Jun 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-10 12:33:22-04

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — Some children are sensitive to certain sounds, images and lighting.

A new program at the Johnson County, Kansas, Museum aims to include more sensory-friendly activities for children who have autism and have these sensitivities.

Dash, who will be starting kindergarten next year, decided to kick off his summer inside "Kidscape" where the new program takes place.

"This is awesome for him," Dash's mom, Erin Pakownski, said. "He's having a blast, even though it's just him. Look at him! There he goes."

The 3,500-square-foot space is a fun and safe space for kids ages 2 to 9 to have fun in a low sensory way.

The program, called "Sensory Friendly Mondays," is a partnership with Britain Development.

Janette Foster is supervisor of the autism program for Britain Development.

"Children that have sensory processing difficulties perceive sensory information different than you and I," Foster said. "For example, the buzzing of the fluorescent light — we may not notice that, but to some kids, they really perceive that as being a lot louder, and so when they're in a space out in the community, they might have a negative experience with that type of sensory input."

Foster said in the new space, kids with sensitivities can be more successful and interactive with their environment.

For Dash's mom, it's a fun summer activity she can enjoy with her son.

"I have two children with special needs. There's not a lot of places where I can just... take a deep breath, without having to be on them because they will sometimes make choices that aren't the safest," Pakownski said. "Right now, I'm relaxed because Dash's safe, he's having fun. I know he's not overly simulated and his sensory needs are being met."

With lights dimmed, certain audio exhibits adjusted and each activity having its own space, it's a place where Dash can be exactly who he is: a kid being a kid.

"As a mom, my main goal is to make sure they're safe and that they're having fun and that they're not overwhelmed," Pakownski said. "I just want them to be happy and have fun and be like everyone else."

The museum's program partner, Britain Development, did an audit of all the museum spaces, galleries, commons spaces and restrooms to prepare. Staff also developed sensory bags for an easier way for visitors to learn and enjoy.

Sensory Friendly Mondays take place on the first Mondays of each month from 9 a.m. to noon, however the next one will be July 12.

Before heading out to the museum, it's highly encouraged to pre-register. You can also check out the Sensory map, where visitors can see where light and sound items are.