‘Sensory-friendly’ event turns down rides’ volume, speed for special kids

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



If you go

• What: Clark County Fair.

• Hours Wednesday: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

• Where: 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

• Admission: Adults, $10; seniors 62 and older, $8; kids 7-12, $7; kids 6 and younger, free. Group packs available for admission discounts daily.

• Parking and transportation: Parking, $6 per vehicle; C-Tran shuttle, $2 round trip from area park-and-ride lots. C-Tran riders get a $1 discount on fair admission. C-Tran fair schedules:C-Tran.

• Carnival: noon to 10 p.m.; unlimited rides, $25.

• Grandstands: Monster Truck Pull, 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., free with fair admission.

• Other highlights: Wednesday is Seniors Day. People 62 and older can enjoy the free hospitality area with refreshments. A Senior’s Day address begins at 10 a.m.

• Pets: Not permitted, except for personal service animals or those on exhibition or in competition.

• Send your fair photos to The Columbian.

• More information: Clark County Fair or 360-397-6180.

The music volume was reduced. The rides swirled a little slower. The lights were a bit dimmer.

But the squeals and giggles of children enjoying rides at the Clark County Fair were in full effect.

For an hour Tuesday afternoon, a handful of children’s rides at the fair operated in “sensory friendly” mode. The reduced lights, sounds and speeds were arranged to make hopping on the rides a little less overwhelming for developmentally disabled children who are sensory sensitive.

“Something is way louder, way brighter, hotter, colder, anything that has to do with sensory is affected by autism,” said Bridget Schwarz, a member of the local chapter of the Autism Society of Washington and an event organizer. “(The event) gives some special consideration to the kids that would love to go on the rides but they’re too loud or too fast or too bright.”

The first-time event was a collaboration between the Clark County Fair and Butler Amusements, and the Autism Society of Washington and Arc of Clark County.

Vancouver resident Diana Vick brought her son, Chase, to the event after seeing a flier at Chase’s occupational therapist’s office.

“I think it’s cool they offered it,” she said. “Today just happens to be his birthday so it made it better.”

Chase celebrated his second birthday by taking a whirl on the Bear Affair ride with his mom and grandmother, Natishia Chacon.

The trio sat inside a large bear wearing a baseball cap and pink overalls. Vick and Chacon used a steering wheel to turn the bearso Chase could see the people watching the ride.

The lower speeds and softer sounds made the ride more enjoyable for Chase, Chacon said.

“It didn’t go super fast,” she said. “We could turn it, but if we didn’t, we just went in circles.”

Tuesday’s outing was Chase’s first time on amusement park rides. The bright lights and loud sounds of a typical evening at the fair would likely be too overwhelming for Chase, Vick said.

Eleven-year-old Justin Krejcha and 5-year-old Ryan Krejcha also benefited from the quieter afternoon at the fair. Both boys are on the autism spectrum and don’t typically do well in loud environments, said their mom, Karen Krejcha of Vancouver.

“It makes it a lot better of an experience for our boys,” Krejcha said as she and her husband, John, watched the boys zip down the Super Slide.

“Sometimes being around so many people making so many noises can be overwhelming,” Karen Krejcha said.

The sensory-friendly hour began at noon, when the rides first opened. The early event time meant fewer people, shorter lines and less distractions for the boys, Karen Krejcha said.

“For them to even offer something is incredible,” John Krejcha said.

Schwarz said she hopes to make the sensory-friendly event an annual offering at the fair and would like to see the number of opportunities for developmentally disabled kids expand.

“Autism can very much isolate the family,” she said. “This is another attempt to help these people live as normal a life in this community as we can.”

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.