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Helping Businesses Accommodate Kids with Sensory Issues

Published Wednesday May 11, 2022

Author Judi Currie

Helping Businesses Accommodate Kids with Sensory Issues

With as many as one in six children affected by sensory issues, Twenty-One Senses, a national nonprofit with a Seacoast office, is looking to create awareness and build inclusion for children and families.

According to Director of Operations and Programs Danielle Heaton, around one in 20 people are affected with sensory issues, but it is even higher in younger children as the brain is not fully developed until about the mid-20s.
“At Twenty-One Senses, we focus on advancing inclusion for children with invisible disabilities. Neurodiversity is a relatively new term and while many people are familiar with Autism and ADHD, there are actually more than 30 different diagnoses that can cause the brain to process information in different ways,” she says.

Heaton says when a child processes sensory information differently, it often displays as behavioral issues, leading parents to take kids out of the public space and into a more private space quickly. Over time they stop visiting public spaces because the outing is not successful.

Twenty-One Senses is working with businesses to raise awareness and encourage the creation of sensory-friendly options.

They share data and other tools with families online. “Sensory-friendly hours often involve reduced capacity, lighting and sound. It doesn’t need to be an absence of light or sound, just small reductions,” says Heaton. “Additional opportunities may be sound deadening headphones or quiet rooms.”

Heaton says if a parent sees that their child is becoming overwhelmed or deregulated, instead of running to the car, they can go to a quiet or calm room. It may be a room with different sensory stimuli that the child can use to recenter, such as liquid-filled glitter tubes. She says even small changes go a long way and make the difference between a family having a successful outing or choosing to stay home.

Among the companies listed on the Twenty-One Senses website are Chuck E. Cheese, which offers Sensory Sensitive Sundays; Chunky’s Cinema Pubs, which offers sensory-friendly movies; and the Children’s Museum of NH in Dover, which has an extensive array of services and programs.

“We love when businesses do sensory-friendly hours but if they only communicate to their regular audience, the families who are not engaging in their community won’t see those updates,” Heaton says.

“A business may want to host a sensory-friendly hour but doesn’t know how to run it and who to invite. We can help, from providing advice for minor modifications all the way to marketing and executing an event.”

Heaton is also working with occupational therapy students at the University of NH to visit businesses and collect data on possible sensory triggers. The goal is to provide a guide for parents about the accommodations that are available or whether a certain venue will work for their child.

“Everyone wants their child to participate, to go to the pool, movies and parties. Walt Disney World does an amazing job, but that is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We want everyday opportunities in the local community,” Heaton says.

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