Ohio State Fair Will Host A 'Sensory Day' For People With Special Needs

by Julie Scagell
Originally Published: 

The fair organizers have thought of everything

The Ohio State Fair is putting on something special this year, hosting a sensory-friendly morning for fairgoers with autism and special sensory needs.

The fair, held in Columbus, is planning to turn off flashing lights, music, and other noise on Wednesday, July 31 so people with autism and issues with sensory integration can come out and enjoy the day. Not only will audio and visual concerns be addressed, parking and ride line times will also be more accessible.

“If you are overwhelmed and need a break, you can go in the quiet room,” Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence executive director Shawn Henry told WDTN. “We’ll have fidgets and other items just to make the environment something that’s inviting, that’s relaxing, then, you can go back out and enjoy other activities,” adding this event is the first of its kind. “The fair is probably going to be one of the most accessible fairs in the entire country.”

Henry’s organization has also created a social narrative to fair-goers that “provide[s] a story to describe a social situation supporting learners with socially appropriate responses and strategies to regulate their behaviors,” according to its website — for people to access before attending the fair.

“The Ohio State Fair isn’t just about food and rides – it is about community,” Ohio State Fair General Manager Virgil Strickler said. “We want to make the Fair as enjoyable as possible for all Ohioans, and Sensory Friendly Morning is one way we can achieve that goal.”

The fair is also proving some prompts to help visitors have a perfect day out. A First-Then board is a visual schedule to support individuals “moving from a less-desired activity to a more preferred.” The board can include words, pictures or icons to help people move around the fair with as less stress as possible.

There is also a Wait Card which, according to their website, can help ease worry among fair guests. “Waiting is a very abstract concept for individuals on the autism spectrum. How long do I wait? Where do I wait? A wait card can provide a visual to support an individual while waiting in line for a ride, a game, food, or to pet the animals.”

Sensory processing disorders affect five to 16 percent of school-aged children. Many struggle with how to process stimulation, causing hypersensitivity to sound, sight and touch, poor fine motor skills, and easy distractibility. Having space for everyone to enjoy themselves and have fewer concerns about the day is a wonderful thing.

“At OCALI, we believe in a world where everyone deserves access to their community,” Henry said. “These new features at the Fair help to create a common experience with unique considerations that allow greater access for all people.”

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