NEW BERN, N.C. (WITN) - For some participants eager to go to MumFest after it was canceled last year due to the pandemic, large crowds can be overwhelming.
“The crowds are just ridiculous this year because it’s the first time after COVID that everyone is out and about and enjoying all of the stuff that Mum Fest has to offer,” said Melana Griffee.
But for the first time, a designated sensory area and “welcoming environment,” was provided for individuals and families who may need a break at MumFest.
Partners of Carolina Therapy Connection wanted to be inclusive for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities, sensory processing disorder or neurodiverse individuals and their families by offering a sensory tent to explore and relax in.
“This is a quiet area where they can come sit down on the chair, put on the headphones to block out some of the noise and just kind of chill to kind of shut out all of this,” said Becky Taylor, a life-long special needs educator. “Because this can be very stimulating for all of us, but a special needs child especially... this can be overwhelming.”
The set up included Halloween crafts, sensory bins with sand, rice, and beans, and lounge chairs with noise canceling headphones.
The pandemic caused a stop to many things, including social interaction. So, gatherings like MumFest can trigger some individuals into feelings of anxiety, according to Taylor.
“Things are different, it’s just not the norm,” said Taylor. “We’re wearing masks and sometimes that’s uncomfortable for a child and it may be frightening for them. So, we all just really have to be more empathetic and understanding to find ways that we can all fit in.”
Griffee knows the importance of inclusion first hand.
“My brother has autism, so I know from my mom growing up that when you see your child just content in something, that makes you happy,” she said. “So that’s what our purpose is out here today.”
Sensory play areas are becoming more popular in high-stress environments like airports, salons, and doctors’ offices.
Carolina Therapy Connection will offer this service to all festival goers again tomorrow in Downtown New Bern.