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City of Surrey provides Sensory Friendly Space at Tree Lighting Festival

The City of Surrey hosted their annual Tree Lighting Festival & Holiday Market this past Saturday. Featuring live music, rides, vendors and the lighting of a 60-foot tree, the festival is a highly anticipated holiday event that brings joy to hundreds of families in the community.

Held for the eighth year, this iteration of the festival was extra special for families living with autism. For the first time, individuals with autism and other sensory sensitivities had access to a Sensory Friendly Space.

Sensory Friendly Spaces provide a quiet place for individuals with autism and other sensory sensitivities to decompress from the busyness of public events. With the support of Canucks Autism Network, City of Surrey piloted their first Sensory Friendly Space back in July.

City of Surrey’s Accessibility Specialist, Karin Pasqua, witnessed first-hand the benefits of the resource. Encountering numerous families living with autism, she was overwhelmed with the positive feedback that she received about the Sensory Friendly Space.

“We heard from numerous families would could stay and enjoy the event far longer than they would have otherwise,” Karin explained. “I met one family who was able to visibly relax as they sat on the couches and watched their son giggle away playing with the sensory toys we had available.”

“One mother was so grateful she was in tears.”

In addition to the Sensory Friendly Space, individuals with autism can borrow noise-cancelling headphones to manage the high volumes of the event. Karin personally recounted four instances of children using the headphones. Two kids in particular had used them so they could wait in line to see Santa.

Including the CAN Birthday Festival, where the initiative was launched, Sensory Friendly Spaces have now been offered at two major public events at Surrey Civic Plaza. The City of Surrey’s hope is to continually expand the events and venues that the resources are offered.

“We had staff from other City of Surrey facilities, including the Surrey Arts Centre, come by to see how the room was set up and how it works,” recalled Karin.

About Sensory Friendly Spaces
Sensory Friendly Spaces are one way that Canucks Autism Network (CAN) aims to improve accessibility for individuals with autism living in Surrey. Other components of this partnership include staff and volunteer training, resource development, and co-hosting autism friendly events.

For more information about the City of Surrey’s Sensory Friendly Spaces, please contact Karin Pasqua at [email protected].

In addition to the City of Surrey, CAN supports a range of community partners, including Vancouver International Airport (YVR), Science World and Rogers Arena.

For more information on how Canucks Autism Network can support your organization to improve accessibility for individuals with autism, please visit canucksautism.ca/communityspaces or email [email protected].

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