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August 09, 2022

Sensory-friendly nights at Adventure Aquarium aim to benefit children with autism, other sensitivities

On Aug. 20, the venue will lower the music and brighten the lights to make an enjoyable experience for guests with different needs

Children's Health Autism Awareness
sensory friendly F.I.S.H. night at Adventure Aquarium Courtesy of/Adventure Aquarium

Adventure Aquarium is hosting a Family Inclusive Sensory Hours Night on Saturday, Aug. 20 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The event's goal is to make a more comfortable experience for people with autism and other sensory issues.

Adventure Aquarium in Camden is hosting a sensory-friendly night that will create an inclusive environment for all guests, including those with autism and other sensitivities.

Family Inclusive Sensory Hours Night will be held on Saturday, Aug. 20 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The event is part of an ongoing partnership with Shriners Children's Philadelphia, a pediatric hospital near Temple University's Health Science Campus.

MORE: Adventure Aquarium offers closer look at shark teeth with 'Shark Tooth Summer'

During F.I.S.H Night, the aquarium lowers the music, brightens the lights and reduces the number of people who can attend. The goal of the event is to make an enjoyable and educational experience for guests who have children with different sensory needs.

Sensory issues are common in those with autism, and can manifest in a variety of ways to a wide range of stimuli, according to Autism Speaks.

Some people may experience hypersensitivity, or over-responsiveness, to bright lights or certain wavelengths, which can result in sensory avoidance – trying to get away from stimuli that most people can easily tune out. Certain sounds, smells, textures and tastes can also overwhelm those who experience hypersensitivity.

People with hypersensitivity can find it difficult to spend all day under fluorescent or LED lights, navigate crowded spaces, or process conversations in rooms with background noise. This can make everyday situations, like school and work, more challenging.

On the other hand, hyposensitivity, or under-responsiveness, can manifest as a constant need for movement. Those experiencing hyposensitivity may be sensory seeking, attempting to stimulate their senses by making loud noises, rocking back and forth, or touching people or objects. Most experience a combination of both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.

Many people with autism use stimming as a way to remain calm, relieve stress or block out uncomfortable sensory input. It can manifest as repetitive movement, sounds or fidgeting. People may feel the need to suppress stimming when it seems inappropriate or disruptive in certain settings, which can lead to exhaustion, burnout or sensory overload.

Sensory overload can feel like intense anxiety, difficulty communicating or the need to escape a situation. It occurs when an intense sensory stimulus overwhelms one's ability to cope.

Accommodations, such as modifying the environment, can greatly ease sensory discomfort, allowing those with autism or other sensitivities to learn, socialize and communicate comfortably.

Those looking to reserve a spot and purchase tickets for F.I.S.H. Night can visit the aquarium's website.

Besides Adventure Aquarium, many other organizations and venues in the region have created sensory-friendly spaces and events.

The Please Touch Museum is hosting a sensory-friendly Play Without Boundaries event on Sunday, August 21, from 9 to 11 a.m. The Franklin Institute has Sensory Friendly Every Day accommodations. The Philadelphia Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra both host sensory-friendly performances.

The Philadelphia Eagles opened an autism-friendly sensory room at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019. The Eagles Autism Foundation has raised millions for autism research and care, a cause that is near and dear to the team. Owner and CEO Jeffrey Lurie has a family member with autism.

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