Cincinnati's Sensory Friendly Night A Success
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In front of a crowd of 2,443 on Saturday, October 20, the Cincinnati Cyclones held their first ever ‘Sensory Friendly Night’ in partnership with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

The first of its kind night for the Cyclones “was to offer families affected by auditory or visual stimulation an opportunity to come into a controlled environment and give them a night out with the whole family,” Cyclones General Manager Kristin Ropp told ECHL.com. “So often families managing these disabilities are splitting up to take one child to an event while those who have sensitivity are staying at home where they are most comfortable.”

The decreased stimulation for the game vs. Wheeling featured no goal horn, decreased in-arena microphone volume, decreased music volume, no strobe lights, no pre-game pyrotechnics, and the lights were on in-arena for the entire duration of the event. 

Once the Cyclones decided to host the Sensory Friendly Night, they reached out to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to ensure they were working with the disability experts in the community to adequately prepare for the event.

Jennifer Smith, the Director of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (LEND) program at Cincinnati Children’s worked closely with the team as they programmed the various aspects of Sensory Friendly Night. LEND programs share the same overall mission of improving the health of infants, children and adolescents with, or at risk for, neurodevelopmental and related disabilities including autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). A major focus of LEND is to increase the number of professionals with the knowledge and skills to provide evidence-based screening, diagnosis and treatment of developmental disabilities, including ASD.

“Their General Manager (Ropp) and I set up a meeting and it was a great walkthrough because it included a lot of the front office members from the Cyclones,” Smith said. “We did a walkthrough of the arena just to be able to talk through what their plans were, so that way we could discuss things from our end, being the disability experts, that they would need to think about doing for the night.”

It wasn’t just the front office staff members that were crucial to the success of the night, however, as Smith also worked on a training with many of the game day staff, including security and ushers, at US Bank Arena who would be working the Sensory Friendly night.

“I think we had about 80 or 90 folks that day, so we did two different training sessions, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, where I came in and was able to educate them just about disability in general. I highlighted some of the characteristics they might see in our population and then also some support and tips for how to better interact with our kids and families. That was a big element that I was impressed with; that they took the time for a two hour training for all of their staff. It shows a lot of commitment and dedication to not just having it be an event one time, but really their staff feels more comfortable kind of on a daily basis with our population.”

Motivated to ensure that any family who had someone with a sensory sensitivity had a positive experience at their Sensory Friendly Night, the Cyclones also considered those who might require a break from the action during the game. For the event, the team set up a ‘Chill Zone’ which was a designated area away from game action.  The Chill Zone gave those who felt overwhelmed an area to relax and was highlighted by a ‘feel zone’ which had hockey-specific items (snow from the zamboni, pucks, skates, etc.) for any attendees to interact with.

As Smith pointed out, everyone in the Cyclones organization was dedicated to the success of the event. “Jay Kruz, the in-arena announcer, he was amazing, and he really set the stage for what the evening was going to be like. Instead of clapping when something good happened, he taught the crowd the American Sign Language sign for clapping. So anytime the Cyclones would score or do something cool, or even during the player announcements, people would do that, so that was really just a breathtaking moment.”

Suzette Amelung, a Special Education teacher in Milan, Indiana, and the Special Education Advisor for the Milan Best Buddies Program, was one of the attendees at the Cyclones game.  Best Buddies is a is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). A trip to the Sensory Friendly Night was one of the Best Buddies monthly outings.

“We had 25 people all together; six other adult chaperones, three students who had disabilities and the rest were all peers from general education,” Amelung recalled. “We were all very impressed with all of the accommodations that were made. We thought it was very kind of the Cyclones to have such an event.”

In addition to the specific changes to the game operations of the event, US Bank Arena also invested in 25 sensory kits. The kits are comprised of noise cancelling headphones, glare reducing glasses, communication cards and fidget toys, and are aimed at calming a child or adult’s sensory system. The kits were available for the Cyclones’ Sensory Friendly Night, but moving forward, the Arena plans to keep the kits at guest services so that they may be used at any event the Arena hosts.

Like Amelung, Smith and her colleagues were impressed with the efforts of the Cyclones on Sensory Friendly Night. “All of us who work on this project and worked with the team, we all had goosebumps the whole night. It was just really cool to see our families doing something that other families get to do and I think that was the most rewarding part for us.”

It appears the night was just as rewarding for the Cyclones, who already plan to host a Sensory Friendly Game in the 2019-20 season. As Ropp stated, “We support the ‘hockey is for everyone’ mantra and felt this was a great event that provided an education for those not affected and a safe and comfortable environment for those who are.  We are already looking ahead to hosting this again next season.”