People living with autism, PTSD can enjoy events in a welcoming environment
When Cathy Blatnik took her son Dominic, who lives with autism and epilepsy, to something as simple as grocery shopping, she never knew how Dominic would react to the outing. He could sometimes become unruly, crying or yelling.
“Bright lights and unexpected noises can trigger a response. It was stressful taking Dominic anywhere,” said Blatnik, who sits on the board of the Mid Michigan Autism Association. “It was very isolating taking him to church and other places.”
Blatnik made it her mission to find or create more sensory-friendly destinations, not only for autistic children, but also for people living with post-stress traumatic syndrome or others who have reactions to large crowds and loud noises.
She met Julie Pingston at the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau at Michigan State University’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts during a sensory-friendly performance. They both wondered why there were not more events that would be welcoming to people living with autism or PTSD.
“We hooked up few months later and together – she knows a lot of people and so do I – so we have been on podcasts, speaking engagements, whatever we can do, we have been promoting this. We want to make the Lansing area accessible to anyone to help bring people to the region.”
Since that meeting, more than a dozen Lansing-area businesses and entertainment locations have joined the Wharton Center in welcoming special-needs guests by toning down the noise and lighting.
“No organization has turned us down so far,” Blatnik explained. “I think this allows families to be able to get out and go to events they have not been able to visit in the past. It can be extremely isolating and at these locations we don’t have to worry about our children being too loud.
“In public people can be very judgmental, and sometimes kids get pointed at or laughed at,” she continued. “I was excited about the hair salon because I used to have to cut Dominic’s hair myself by putting a bowl around his head and cutting what hung down. I am a horrible hairdresser. At the salon, they only use scissors on some people (who react negatively to the noise from electric trimmers), making modifications so people don’t stress out so much about going places.”
Blatnik said she wishes the entire state would adopt sensory-friendly entertainment venues. There are some locations it the Grand Rapids area and near Detroit but travel north of Lansing and there are few options, she said.
“If there isn’t something sensory-friendly, go to the venue and tell them that it isn’t difficult,” she stated. “Tell them it is very easy. Dim the lights, turn off strobe lights and provide a quiet room. It won’t cost them any money.”
Blatnik said when she started seeking more sensory-friendly locations she primarily focused on making safe spaces for people living with autism. Since then she has learned that people living with PTSD, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy can be affected by noise and lights.
She immersed herself in her mission to the point of becoming a board member of the Mid Michigan Autism Association.
I thought it would be good if one organization or one person would reach out to find resources for people affected by sensory issues,” Blatnik said. “I didn’t think I would end up being that person, but the Association has given me that platform and has given me a lot of support.
Locations in mid-Michigan that have sensory-friendly hours or days are:
Wharton Center for Performing Arts
Launch Trampoline Park in Okemos
Impression 5 Science Center
South Lansing Library
Holt-Delhi Library in Holt
Delta Township Library
Potter Park Zoo
Wildcats Cheer Pride special-needs cheer team, Lansing
Ella Sharp Museum, Jackson
Cooley Law School Stadium
H&M Clubhouse Kids Salon and Mini Spa, Lansing
Outback Steakhouse in Okemos