SANDUSKY, Ohio — Flashing lights.
An unfamiliar, crowded place.
All of these things can be overwhelming for anyone with a sensory processing disorder, and are all reasons that families may avoid loud and busy places.
Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in Sandusky hopes to help change that. They just became the first fully certified "sensory friendly" resort in the Midwest.
“It's a growing population, people with autism, sensory processing disorders, that we need to serve, and we need to serve them better,” says general manager Brian Shanle.
Serving this population better hits close to home for Shanle. He's a father of five, and one of his sons is on the autism spectrum.
“I know what it can entail to take a family, especially with someone on the autism spectrum or with a sensory processing disorder to a strange place that they've never been, and new sights, sounds things like that they've never experienced can be traumatic.”
Kalahari teamed up with Sensory City, a non-profit based out of Boston. They're dedicated to helping children with disabilities, with a special focus on sensory needs.
Together, they designed Kalahari's calming room as a place where guests can get away.
The room has soft lighting and soft seating, including beanbags and other sensory items. There are also special calming sensory panels on the wall.
Several different kits are also available to be checked out at the front desk. The sensory kit includes a communication board, noise-canceling headphones, sensory toys and fidget toys. The safety kit comes with outlet covers, a sensory ice pack, motion detector door alarm, soft glow night light and identifying wristband. The comfort kit includes a weighted blanket and a sensory eye mask.
“Our passion is to make this a more friendly place, more inclusive for families of all types.”
Kalahari says they are already receiving great feedback from guests, along with their employees, who received special training as part of the certification.
"We've gotten a lot of feedback from our associates that went through the training," said Shanle. "They didn't know why some of our guests, some of their friends, co-workers or even family members acted a certain way that they did. Once they received the training on sensory issues, they realized what was going on and had a deeper respect for these individuals."