With winds whipping at 20 mph atop Bose Mountain on Saturday afternoon, it was “probably the windiest (Sensory-Friendly) Kite Day ever” for the MetroWest Autism Alliance’s annual event.
“This definitely breaks the record,” said Co-Director Pam McKillop, as half a dozen multi-colored kites lifted into the sky on top of Bose Corporation’s 300-foot tall hill during the first half hour of the three-hour event. A couple dozen families with members on the autism spectrum bundled up to not only fly kites, but to explore police cruisers and fire trucks parked onsite, a fire house to spray, trackless train rides, a trampoline and rebounders to bounce on, interactive music therapists to enjoy and bubble machines to play with at the event hosted by the program part of Advocates,
The sensory-friendly event during Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month encourages attendees to touch and engage with their sensation-focused surroundings, and it is staffed by workers who support the inclusive environment, according to Sandy Lashin-Curewitz, a senior director of marketing and communications at Advocates, a Framingham-based nonprofit human services agency of which the alliance is a program under.
Lashin-Curewitz said attendance is kept low so attendees feel safe enough to explore and have “un-judged” fun, garnering community support from The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, the Ben & Jerry’s Natick location, which donates a portion of ice cream sold onsite to the Autism Alliance, and Natick’s Wegmans, which sent volunteers to serve healthy food and snacks thorough the event.
“It is important to provide sensory-friendly events so that families can practice and experience community outings with a high rate of success,” said Lashin-Curewitz. “Many families are afraid to venture out due to their child’s behaviors and fears the community might not accept them.”
“I find myself helicopter-parenting a lot, but with events like this, I can just let them run in an open parking lot and be a kid,” said Bangs, whose husband works on weekends, often struggling to find something that will entertain both her son Jackson, 5, who is on the spectrum, and her daughter Violet, 4.
After experiencing the event for the first time last year, she called it a “great event” that’s “so much fun.”
They attended with Jackson’s “best buddy” Brady Giles, 6, who is also on the spectrum.
“Jackson calls Brady his brother,” said Bangs as she untangled a purple octopus kite and a fish kite for flight. “We love sea creatures.”
“We need this so we can have those conversations (about autism),” said Giles’s father Rick, another Ashland resident, who said Bangs recommended the event to them. They attended the event for the first time this year, and it was also their first time flying kites.
Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication and the Centers for Disease Control states an estimated 1 in 59 children is affected by autism.
Watching Brady enjoy the freedom of the vast parking lot with his sister Maddie, 5, Violet and Jackson, Giles said it was, “well worth it to see him smile.”
“They’re absolutely loving it,” said Giles. “These are always fun events – such a great idea.”