Carnivals can be loud. From the screams of thrill-seekers on the tilt-a-whirl to the flashing lights on every food stand in the area, there is a lot to process and it can be overwhelming for just about anyone (hello, crowds and long lines, too).
BrightCare Center is hoping to make the carnival-like atmosphere more approachable and accepting for families and individuals who have special needs and sensory processing issues at its first-ever Northern Virginia Sensory Carnival and Health Fair.
The event is set for Saturday, Sept. 14 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will bring together health providers, local political candidates and community members of all ages and abilities, according to Nyome Kamara, founder and CEO of BrightCare Center.
“Unfortunately, there are very few spaces for special needs kids where they can be completely free and where they are not judged for their behaviors,” says Kamara. “Spaces with large crowds or events that have a lot of people, they’re not accommodating for everyone as maybe they should be. Through this event, we want to be able to support all kids and make sure they have access to social events, especially going out to the fair or to the carnival.”
In order to make the event accessible for all individuals, Kamara has made an effort to ensure that all attending vendors will have interactive, hands-on activities for children to engage with throughout the day, as well as calming, quiet corners where children and families can go to decompress if needed.
“We’ll also have water slides and splash pads for those that might need to cool down, and games and activities in different areas,” says Kamara. “It will have all of the fun and flare of a carnival, just without all of the loud noises. Plus, for those that prefer more fast-paced games and activities, we will have those. But we will also have slower, intuitive games that everyone can enjoy.”
Everyone is welcome to attend, says Kamara, but she believes this event is even more important for children and families with individuals that are on the autism spectrum, have sensory processing sensitivities or other special needs, to really make local connections to the community, and to know that they are seen and heard.
“Some local political candidates and delegates will be in attendance,” says Kamara. “We don’t want to get too political, but this is also a great time for members of the special needs community to voice their needs and concerns, too. They can often get overlooked, so this will be a great time for them to share their perspectives.”
The event will also have live demonstrations, breakout yoga sessions and food trucks for attendees to enjoy.
More than just enjoying the carnival-esque atmosphere, Kamara hopes those that attend feel welcomed with open arms, and that the community can become more aware of the special needs community in Northern Virginia.
“We can’t create change if we’re not aware of it,” says Kamara. “Allowing everyone in the community to be in this space, address the stigmas and allow families and individuals to make connections, that’s what really makes this event even more important to us.” // 1 County Complex Court, Woodbridge; $10 per person
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