Sensory-friendly activities on the rise in San Antonio
Sensory-friendly activities in San Antonio 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," San Antonio-based Adriana Crostley, outreach director at the Autism Society of Texas, 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 Autism Society of Texas 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.
Details: Crostley's church, University Methodist Church in San Antonio, offers a weekly disability-inclusive service and Sunday school for children with special needs.
- She says the programming has made a big difference for her teenage son, who is autistic, and for her family.
Zoom in: The DoSeum offers Beyond Limits programming. Modifications include smaller crowds, free accessories like sunglasses, headphones and earplugs, assistive signs and specialized staff. The children's museum recently hosted a sensory-friendly Halloween event.
- This year, the San Antonio Zoo became a certified sensory-inclusive zoo, a process that included training staff. The zoo now has quiet zones and offers noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools and more.
- The Spurs opened a sensory-friendly room at the Frost Bank Center in 2019. It's among a growing number of sports facilities that offer such rooms, including Arlington's Globe Life Field and Houston's NRG Stadium.
- AMC and Alamo Drafthouse offer sensory-friendly movie times when the lights stay on and people can walk around.
- Most Walmart stores have started offering sensory-friendly shopping hours on Saturdays with dim lights and static images on TVs.
The big picture: KultureCity, a national nonprofit focused on sensory accessibility, lists 10 San Antonio-area locations that are certified sensory inclusive.
- Majestic and Empire Theatres, Magik Theatre, The Alamo, the Tobin Center and Natural Bridge Caverns are all certified.
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: Chuck E. Cheese will open two hours early on Sunday — and the first Sunday of every month — to offer a quieter environment, dimmed lighting and specially trained staff. The San Antonio Chuck E. Cheese at 11735 Bandera Road is participating.
More San Antonio stories
No stories could be found
Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios San Antonio.