COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - Parents of children with Autism are encouraging others to help them increase the attendance at monthly events designated for these children called Sensory Sensitive Sundays.
These events take place the first Sunday of every month at the Chuck E. Cheese on Macon Road in Columbus.
Jennifer LeDenney and Andrea Gunter both have sons with Autism, and they said these events are so important to other families like theirs. They said it can be difficult for them to find places and activities where their sons can have fun and feel comfortable.
“Our kids require special needs like low lighting, less noise, less crowds,” LeDenney said.
Sensory Sensitive Sundays are geared toward children with Autism. There are dimmed lights, a quiet environment, and limited appearances by Chuck E. Cheese, among other elements.
According to the Chuck E. Cheese website, “when designing this event, [they] took great care to ensure elements of the restaurant were toned down to be more sensory-friendly for children of all ages.”
But LeDenney and Gunter said one day they arrived at Chuck E. Cheese to find the doors locked.
“It was horrible," Gunter said. "I knew there was going to be a meltdown in the car.”
LeDenney said it is difficult for children with Autism to have a sudden change of plans.
“Meltdowns are screaming," she said. "They’re pulling their hair. They’re self-injurious. They can last for 5 minutes to hours.”
LeDenney and Gunter said it was because of a lack of attendance that Chuck E. Cheese suspended Sensory Sensitive Sundays.
But thankfully the community rallied, trying to get this monthly event back.
“We had people from Ft. Benning fighting," LeDenney said. "We had people who don’t have a child with Autism fighting. We had people all over the country that were calling for us.”
And just two months later, Sensory Sensitive Sundays have returned.
“It was a huge relief to have it back," LeDenney said. "And it made our day. We’re grateful”
Ledenney and Gunter are appreciative the event is back, but they’re worried there still is the possibility it might not be here permanently.
“We need the numbers to come up,” LeDenney said. “We depend on these to come out and let our kids just be who they are.”
They encourage everyone to spread the word about the event to keep attendance up. They say this event is so important to children with autism and their parents both.
“There’s only a few of these that we have," Gunter said. "And our children look forward to it so much.”
LeDenney urges anyone with a child with Autism to visit the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities for more information on how they can get assistance.
LeDenney also runs the Columbus Georgia Autism Network Facebook page that connects families who have children with Autism.