Oct 26, 2023 - Things to Do

Sensory-friendly activities on the rise in Texas

Animated illustration of a light dimmer switch with static noise behind it, which goes away when the dimmer moves down.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Sensory-friendly activities are helping families enjoy common experiences with loved ones who have autism or other special needs.

Why it matters: Autism has long been stigmatized. Now, a growing number of companies and organizations are accommodating people with special sensory needs.

  • "We've seen personally the difference of how people are open to neurodiversity … 10 or 15 years ago, people were not ready to have this conversation," Adriana Crostley, the Texas Autism Society's outreach director, tells Axios.

By the numbers: About 1 in 36 children nationally has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, per the CDC. The actual figure could be higher because of the difficulties of getting a diagnosis.

  • The Texas Autism Society estimates there are "well over 500,000 people" with autism in the state.

Reality check: Sensory-friendly activities, which reduce stimuli and sensory overload, can also help veterans and families with dogs that are sensitive to loud noises.

The intrigue: The Sound in Cypress Waters hosted a sensory-friendly Independence Day celebration this year with a laser show instead of traditional fireworks.

  • Most Walmart stores have started offering sensory-friendly shopping hours on Saturdays with dim lights and static images on TVs.
  • Arlington's Globe Life Field and Houston's NRG Stadium are among a growing number of sports facilities that offer sensory rooms and sensory kits for guests.
  • AMC and Alamo Drafthouse offer sensory-friendly movie times when the lights stay on and people can walk around.

How it works: The Autism Society of Texas guides organizations and companies on how to plan activities and events for sensory-challenged people. They also train employees on what to expect and how to adapt to their guests.

  • "Something as easy as being able to buy your own groceries can be life-changing," Crostley says. "It makes a huge difference being able to feel part of the community, being able to gain access to things that you weren't able to."

Reality check: Challenges remain for individuals with autism, including long wait times to get a diagnosis and difficulty finding accommodations in day-to-day activities, Crostley says.

What's next: On Oct. 29, Chuck E. Cheese will host sensory-friendly Halloween events at locations across the country, including in North Texas.


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