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July 19, 2022

Sensory-Friendly Events Around Central Ohio

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Summer Fun for Everyone

Central Ohio is a wonderful place to explore new activities to do with your family, especially during the summer. However, sometimes it is hard to do these activities if your loved one has special sensory needs.

Many local attractions have adapted to become more sensory friendly by adding special times and removing certain sensory triggers that might be overwhelming.

Sensory friendliness means different things to each family, depending on their unique situation.

At Boundless, being sensory friendly means “understanding the needs of our individuals, whether they have a sensitivity to noises or lights and taking what we know about them then adjusting their environment to meet those needs,” said Samantha Banks, administrator of center-based services, I Am Boundless, Inc.

Individuals with autism or intellectual or developmental disabilities can be affected through their senses in numerous ways, such as their sight being overwhelmed with lights and distorting perception. Sounds being too loud can cause anxiety. Smells can be overwhelming and trigger bad memories. Touch can cause stress, whether it is too much touch or not enough; some individuals might need more pressure. Whatever triggers an individual has can easily occur when families go out in the community to popular destinations. Fortunately, all around Columbus, family favorites like The Columbus Zoo, Center of Science and Industry (COSI), and the Ohio State Fair are all making sensory-friendly adjustments so every person can enjoy these fun activities!

Katherine Davis, manager of special education experiences and strategies, COSI, said, “Science is for everyone, so we are trying to make experiences so that no matter who comes through the doors they have a great experience and can learn about sciences with whatever tools they need.” COSI created free sensory bags that include noise-cancelling headphones, visual schedules, fidgets, and bubbles. These are free upon request for both children and adults.

COSI is not alone; The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium has made adjustments, too. Becky Nellis, director of curriculum and partnerships, said the Zoo is encouraging parents to prepare children before they go, so they have a plan to use tools and resources the Zoo provides, if needed.

“There are a number of resources that can be found online beforehand to read about what they might experience, sensory maps that point out loud sounds or overwhelming smells, as well as attraction guides that talk about sensory issues they might endure,” Nellis said. The Columbus Zoo also has quiet afterhours that they offer, those dates and times can be found below.

The Ohio State Fair is also prepared to offer sensory-friendly help for their upcoming season so that all families will be able to enjoy this attraction.  

“Everyone interacts differently and has unique interests,” said Alicia Shoults, assistant general manager at Ohio Expo Center & Ohio State Fair, which is why The Ohio State Fair offers a multitude of options for families who attend with a loved one who has sensory issues.

The Fair will host a sensory-friendly morning on Wednesday, August 3, where the lights will be turned down, and the sounds and music will be softer to make it a calmer environment. They selected this time because it is traditionally less crowded. For the entire time of the fair there is a designated quiet area that offers headphones families can use to take a break from the action. The large natural resources area is also a nice escape from the louder midway, Shoults said.

Inclusion is something that Boundless strives for, and it is wonderful to see surrounding places in Central Ohio are recognizing the need to provide safe places for those we serve.

“It’s nice to have something from the place that you’re going ahead of time, things you are allowed to touch while you are there, allowed to experiment with, because then we feel like we are being accepted and they know they are welcome there, which reduces anxiety that the families feel,” Banks said.

Please find links below for details about these events and many more around town. To hear the full conversation from these organizations, listen to our “Well-Being” podcast episode “Oh the Places You’ll Go – Sensory-Friendly Spots hosted by Scott Light.

Summer Sensory Friendly Events 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022 (10 a.m. – 1 p.m.)
Ohio State Fair

Friday, August 5, 2022 (2 - 4 p.m.)
Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival *Boundless is a sponsor

Friday, August 19, 2022 (5 - 9 p.m.)
Zoombezi Bay Sensory Friendly Quiet After Hours

Saturday, September 10, 2022 (4 p.m.)
Sensory Friendly Series at New Albany Symphony "The Rhythm is Gonna Getcha"

Second and Fourth Saturday monthly (family-friendly)
Wednesday evenings every month (mature audiences) 

AMC Sensory Friendly Films

COSI Sensory Friendly Bags

Pickerington Public Library Sensory Bags


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