Autism Goes Mainstream; Chuckie Cheese Goes Sensory Friendly Improving the Experience for Some Children with ASD. I’m not sure if this modification would have helped Nick, but it’s a great thing for many children who have ASD accompanied by sensory processing disorder.
Most people envision kids with autism with sensory issues as holding their ears, or not being able to tolerate the overwhelming stimuli of places like Chuckie Cheese, but that’s not the only sensory response children with autism can have, and it’s not the response Nick has.
Nick’s first birthday party was at Chuckie Cheese, before he developed autism, and before I had a clue how the environment might be affecting him, and he sure seemed to love it. Then post diagnosis (Nick was diagnosed at 23 months) during his preschool and elementary school years Chuckie Cheese was the place to go. It was a safe haven where his behaviors and noises for the most part just blended in with the general chaos. A place where the typical kids were acting like my spectrum kiddo, running, yelling, darting, jumping, slamming into one another and all was accepted. Perhaps best of all, parents were too busy trying to keep up with their own kiddo’s to pay attention to mine. Oh how I miss those days!
Unfortunately reality set in and we had to stop taking Nick to Chuckie Cheese when he phased out of the “kiddo” age zone. Unlike other families we didn’t stop because the never ending noises, lights and crowds were too much for Nick, in our case it was exactly the opposite we went for the chaos and Nick loved it! He loves all the lights, sounds, running kids, and the games that over stimulate his nervous system. It’s like a drug, a high for him. He loves the way it winds him up and he slowly spins into a frenzy, until he is jumping, spinning, drooling and exploding with uncontrollable laughter. He’s escalates into a “Happy Frenzy”.
In this overwhelmed state he hears nothing from the outside world, he loses all impulse control and just wants more, and more and more. The result is inevitably his flailing body gets the attention of other parents and kids as stare, grab their children and I can tell they are wondering if Nick is a danger to their children. Before I know it a space clears between Nick and everyone else and the reality that his excitement could prose a danger to the smaller kids becomes really obvious. So we fade away, and go home. Then comes the slow and painful crash from his sensory high. For days to follow Nick is agitated, unable to sleep, experiences bouts of aggression, and his repetitive behaviors escalate. A terrible price to pay for loving a place.