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Program offers sensory-friendly experiences for those on the autism spectrum

Posted: 5:40 AM, Sep 03, 2016
Updated: 2016-09-03 12:36:00-04

DENVER -- Imagine being in a mall and not being able to filter out all the sounds, smells, tastes and temperatures that most of us ignore in crowded places.

That’s what people with autism spectrum disorder deal with every day, making things like trips to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science difficult for many families.

“When we would come to the museum normally there is a ton of people around, it's really loud, some of the exhibits are really loud,” parent Jenny Maxwell said. “Having a child with autism going to certain places like an amusement park, I would never take my children to... just because they are so many lights and sounds, the rides, just things like that.”

But more places like the museum are offering sensory friendly nights or experiences so that families of those with autism can enjoy a night out.

“What that means is that they have a certain area that we are allowed to go to. They turn the sound down and they turn the lights down on some of the exhibits so it’s more sensory friendly for people with autism,” Maxwell explained.

The events are coordinated through the Colorado Autism Society’s Opening Doors program.

“For a lot of them it's not even about coming to the museum,” said Erica deDufour, the Colorado Autism Society’s Program Manager. “It's being able to get out of their houses and go somewhere where they know that they are in an inclusive environment.”

About a dozen restaurants, museums, theater programs and other organizations are now taking part in the Opening Doors program, altering the mood in their facilities to be more inviting for those with autism and their families for a night.

“I've had parents come say, 'this wasn't even so much about the child's experience,'” deDufour said. “It was the dad being able to come out and see, 'wow there was a whole community here, I'm not alone in this situation.'”

For families who aren’t normally part of the crowd, nights out with the Opening Doors program also offer a chance to be social.

“I love meeting other families who are going through similar things that I am and helping others that learn the things that I've learned,” Maxwell said.

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