Many places offer sensory-friendly activities for children with autism

Sinclair Broadcast Group

The number of children living with autism has risen 15-percent over the past two years.

Many popular attractions are learning how to cater to that growing population.

Ryan Yamamoto finds sensory-friendly places where children living on the spectrum can safely explore.

Fragile and gentle. As the colors perform their delicate dance it brings a smile to 3-year old Dexter. The tropical butterfly garden inside Seattle’s Pacific Science Center is a safe place where children living with autism, like Dexter, can quietly explore with his father,

“When we get to a place he is not familiar with, it takes him some time to get used to it. But once he gets used to it he gets pretty comfortable,” said Benjamin Dwan.

But in a place that can see a million visitors a year, large crowds and noises can sometimes be a scary place for children with sensory sensitivities.

“Sensory sensitivities and autism spectrum disorder are part of the diagnoses often, so they are extremely common,” said Dr. Jennifer Gertds from Seattle Children’s Autism Center. “I would say that the majority of children or individuals with autism have some sort of sensory sensitivity.”

Dwan discovered one of Dexter’s sensitivities at a simple party.

“We found out on his third birthday when we sang happy birthday to him, and loud noises and clapping, he is sensitive to it.”

Karlisa Callwood says the Science Center recognizes those sensitivities. Once a month they offer free special early and late hours for families with autistic children.

“Two time periods are for anyone who can benefit from less crowds, reduced noises coming from exhibits and the sounds coming from exhibits. So it is a calmer experience,” said Callwood.

At the Woodland Park Zoo, where they see their share of rambunctious crowds. The zoo offers a sensory map that point families to quiet areas inside the zoo. Outside, they recently built a sensory garden filled with friendly plants temples, bells and colors

“The texture of it, which is sort of artificially grass texture and the fact that it is deep blue, is specially designed for autistic kids,” said David Selk, from Woodland Park Zoo.

Benjamin Dwan appreciates all the sensory options for his son Dexter and hopes it can help give him a normal childhood experience.

“The main thing right now is make sure he is happy,” said Dwan.