“Sensory Sensitive Sundays” is a pilot program for children with ASD.
On a typical Sunday, the scene inside Chuck E. Cheese’s would be way too much for Mike Moniz’s son, Austin, to handle. The flashing screens, the kids rushing from game to game and “Chuck E.” (the chain’s guitar-playing mouse mascot) would overwhelm the 7-year-old, who has autism and is non-verbal.
Yet for months, Austin has been a Chuck E. Cheese’s regular thanks to a pilot program called “Sensory Sensitive Sundays” that the chain is testing at select restaurants throughout New York, New Jersey and New England.
The goal is to transform an environment that might typically overwhelm a child on the autism spectrum into a space that they, too, can enjoy by keeping the crowds small, the lights and sounds low, and giving the mouse mascot the day off.
Austin’s dad says it’s working. In the handful of times Austin has gone to Chuck E. Cheese’s in Attleboro, Mass, he has grown to love Skee-Ball and watching his father play the car racing games.
“Austin can’t say, ‘I like Chuck E. Cheese’s’ but I know from the way he is acting, and his mood, that he’s having a good time,” Moniz told The Huffington Post. “When we pull up to the parking lot, he claps and jumps.”
The company has already successfully tested the program at locations in Warwick, Rhode Island, Glen Burnie, Maryland and Attleboro, Ami Anderson, a spokesperson for the company told HuffPost in an e-mail. It will be testing the program at 54 restaurants in the region through May, at which point it may begin to roll out nationally, Anderson said.
For parents, one clear benefit is simply being around other parents who get it because they also have kids with ASD or sensory processing issues.
“You don’t have to explain to them, or keep saying, ‘sorry,’” Moniz said. “Normally, we have a much tighter leash when we’re around ‘normies.’ Austin can be hard to handle sometimes, and there you can almost relax. You don’t have to explain yourself.’”