A common challenge for families who care for children with sensory issues is trying to make their lives as normal as possible in a world that feels overwhelming and is difficult to navigate. Chuck E. Cheese’s (CEC) recognized this need when a coordinator from CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders) wanted to take her nephew, who has autism, to the restaurant in Attleboro, Massachusetts, but she knew the loud sounds, flashing lights, and high-level of activity would be hard for her nephew to experience. She asked the general manger in that location if they would be willing to open early and adjust the restaurant’s activities to be more sensory friendly, and they agreed!
This action garnered so much attention that when CEC corporate headquarters found out what happened, they loved the idea and decided make the same opportunity available for other location. Thus, Sensory Sensitive Sundays was born! I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ami Anderson–who has served as the Senior Director of Advertising and Marketing at CEC Entertainment for three years now–to get the scoop on Sensory Sensitive Sundays.
While Sensory Sensitive Sundays originated from one location, CEC headquarters wanted to market this program elsewhere. “We tested the program in the Northeast region beginning in January and it confirmed that there was a big desire from our guests for a sensory-friendly program,” Anderson explained. “The response and turnout was so overwhelming; we were able to offer it to hundreds of restaurants across the country.” Now, about 50 percent of CEC locations participate in Sensory Sensitive Sundays.
So, what exactly is Sensory Sensitive Sundays and what can families expect? “We tailored the experience so it would be more enjoyable and suitable for children who face sensory challenges,” Anderson said. “The program is offered on the first Sunday of every month, two hours before the restaurant opens to the general public. Families can expect smaller crowds and less noise. We dim the lighting, turn the in-store show down or off, and limit appearances by our costumed characters, while still offering all of our fun games and a full menu.”
Families who have children on modified diets are allowed to bring their own snacks into the restaurant. “We also offer gluten-free pizza options as a part of our regular menu,” Anderson said.
Chuck E. Cheese is dedicated to making Sensory Sensitive Sundays as enjoyable for its guests as possible, so they have partnered with CARD in a joint effort to expand opportunities for families in the autism community. “They’ve (CARD) helped us identify elements of the CEC experience that might be overwhelming or overstimulating for sensory-sensitive kids,” Anderson told me. “They also equipped us with a comprehensive Staff Training Guide, which includes useful tips for our employees when working with children with ASD.”
Anderson is proud of this program and is excited to offer children with sensory issues access to their locations. “We hope that families and kids who haven’t been able to experience the fun of CEC will finally have that opportunity. We’re proud to provide an environment for children who face sensory challenges and give them the same chance to enjoy CEC as their peers do,” she said. “We strive to be a place where all kids can be a kid.”
The next Sensory Sensitive Sunday is right around the corner, this Sunday, October 1st!
- Click here to find a participating location near you.
- To learn more information on Sensory Sensitive Sundays by watching Ami Anderson in this video.