For parents of children with special needs, taking their kids to the often bright, loud and overstimulating environment of an indoor play center can be daunting.
Some might fear dirty looks or nasty comments from other parents if their little ones get agitated or, worse, an insensitive staffer asks them to leave should their kids have an outburst.
“Some parents are very reluctant to take their children into public because of perceived barriers or real barriers,” said Victoria Boye, one of the owners of Missing Piece Awareness, a company that provides businesses with autism awareness training. “But children with autism need to get out into the community as early as possible.”
Now, Safari Adventure, an indoor play arena in Riverhead, will offer a one-hour block once a month specifically geared to the autism and special needs communities. All staff members have been trained by Missing Pieces and during that time the staff-to-guest ratio will be increased, the capacity will be limited and the music will be turned off.
“We’ve always had families come in with special needs, but it was hard for us to reach the community,” said Safari Adventure owner Stephanie Shin. “Now families [with special needs] can come here and not feel uncomfortable that they’ve brought their kids out in public.”
The first one-hour block will run from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 11. Shin hopes to host the event, which is dubbed “Sensitive Safari,” at least once a month.
Boye, who is the mother of a 3-year-old boy with autism, noted that as children become more comfortable during the “Sensitive Safari” play time, they might feel at ease during the general play time as well.
“It opens up the opportunity for some of them to have birthday parties in public for the very first time,” Boye said.
Sensitive Safari is for children ages one to 12. The entry fee is the same as general admission: $9.25 plus tax for children under 3 and $14 plus tax for kids 3 and up. Children are welcome to stay for the rest of the day following Sensitive Safari.
Children who become uncomfortable and have to leave soon after purchasing a ticket can obtain a pass to come back another day, Shin said.