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Sensory Night provides safe play environment for families

LEWISBURG — Having a child with a sensory sensitivity can make finding a place for the whole family to play together a challenge.

The Public Library for Union County offers a free Sensory Night program that provides children with sensory sensitivities, and their families, a safe environment to engage in play.

“We have a huge population in our local area that is underserved when it comes to special needs, to sensory issues,” said Davena Laverty, children’s programming assistant at the library. “Whether they are on the spectrum or premature and still have some sensory issues or are a typical child that just has a hard time and melts down, it makes it difficult for them to access programs at the library because parents can feel out of place or judged. Even if they’re not, that feeling is there.”

Children with sensory issues often experience difficulty in processing information coming through all seven senses. Aside from the traditional five senses, vision, audition, taste, olfactory (smell) and tactile (touch), two internal senses are included: Proprioception (body awareness) and vestibular (balance and movement).

Engaging these senses in specific ways can help a child with sensory sensitivities experience an optimal level of arousal and regulation. This can allow them to both make sense of and feel safer in the world.

On the fourth Thursday of each month, children employ all of their senses during the library’s Sensory Night program. Activity stations set up in a large room focus on the different types of senses.

“We have balance items, trampolines, manipulatives, weighted balls and scooter boards,” Laverty said.

A second room is available as a calming space. Mats spread along the floor and twinkle lights hanging above offer a soothing environment in case a child may feel overwhelmed at any given point.

“One of the new things we’ve added to the calming area is a large tent that even some of the bigger kids can fit in,” Laverty said.

A tent allows a safe space for a child to regroup and calm down by limiting auditory, visual or other input.

While the Sensory Night program features helpful toys, it is the atmosphere created that is most important.

The program allows parents, caregivers and children the opportunity to connect with others and build friendships and a community of support Laverty said.

Heidi Moore, of Northumberland, brings her 6-year-old son, Carter, to Sensory Night. Moore said she loves that many of the other moms that attend the group have become her friends.

“One of the reasons autism is a blessing to us is the people that have come into our lives because of it,” Moore said.

Lewisburg resident Celina Mull brings her son Parker, 4, to Sensory Night.

“It’s a safe place for our kids to play and socialize without judgment,” Mull said. “Parker loves to run, jump and play but he does get overwhelmed in large crowds. That’s why we enjoy Sensory Night at the library.”

“Creating an event at the library allows families to feel safe and meet new people,” said Erin Demcher, a board certified behavior analyst and owner of the Autism and Behavior Resources in Lewisburg.

Demcher is on hand at the program to provide additional support.

“I am able to connect families and provide resources for behavior management and activities of daily living.”

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