AP NEWS

Huntington Mall hosts sensory-friendly Easter event

April 14, 2019

BARBOURSVILLE — Lindsey Newman said it was a challenge to take her three children to any Easter-related event.

Two of her children have autism spectrum disorder, meaning they have difficulties with sensory input and can be overstimulated by too many sights and sounds.

That’s why she brought them to meet the Easter Bunny at the Huntington Mall on Saturday, which was organized specifically for children with special sensory needs.

“Some of those other Easter events get really overcrowded,” she said. “We tried to go to those when they were younger and it was not a good experience.”

To achieve a calmer environment, the mall turned off all music normally playing over the loudspeakers.

The event was held as stores were opening, eliminating any potential shopping crowds. There were also several tables set up with tactile toys and puzzles geared toward children with sensory needs.

Newman said she is glad the mall hosts an autism-friendly Easter event every year because it provides a consistency that her children benefit from.

There weren’t any crowds, so the children were able to meet with the Easter Bunny before taking pictures, gifting him some artwork they drew and giving him hugs.

Rylee Newman, 6, and 4-year-old twins Kayden and Teagan Newman then sat in the Easter Bunny’s lap and made requests for toys they hope to see inside their Easter baskets.

“This is very important because they have time to process their surroundings and what’s going on when they enter the situation,” Lindsey Newman said.

“If there is a problem, they learn that it’s OK and it’s not frowned upon. It makes them feel included along with what their peers are able to do.”

The mall hosts a similar sensory-sensitive event with Santa Claus every Christmas, said Holly Shivel, social media influencer for the mall.

Shivel, who has a son with autism, said she understands the importance of presenting children with a setting that is on their own terms. The children could interact with some of the toys on the tables and then meet the Easter Bunny when they were ready.

“I had a mother earlier tell me the only way her little girl will come see the Easter Bunny is if there is something else to do first,” Shivel said. “This event calms them down. They are in their element and they can go.”

The little girl worked a puzzle a few times and then had pictures taken with no issues, she said. Providing the activities also gives children an opportunity to play with their brothers and sisters in an appropriate way, something children with autism spectrum disorder sometimes have difficulties doing.

Shivel said she’s heard positive reactions from parents and guardians, who often keep in touch with mall staff to find out when they will host their sensory-sensitive events.

“One woman said she couldn’t get Easter pictures otherwise,” Shivel said.

The event ended with each parent receiving a keepsake photo of their child’s meeting and a free ticket to ride the “All Smiles Aboard” trackless train.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.