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St. Patrick’s Day parades involve crowds, lots of green decorations, often flashing lights, Irish-themed floats, costumes, and music. Parades are exciting and fun for many families! Parades are also a time for communities to celebrate together. However, parades are also a problem because they are sensory-rich. Sensory-rich events are a challenge for children with sensory sensitivities, autism, or sensory disorders, for example. The crowds, loud noises, and unfamiliarity causes many children to feel very overwhelmed. Therefore, it is helpful to learn sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day parade tips that both families and organizations can use to make parades accessible and inclusive, and fun for more families.
What is a sensory-friendly parade?
You may have heard of the terms “sensory-friendly. Do you wonder what it means? Maybe, you would like to know how these parades are different from typical parade celebrations.
A sensory-friendly parade is a parade designed to be less sensory-rich and less overwhelming for the senses. Did you know that you have more than five senses? You have at least eight of them! There are a variety of simple changes to make to be sensory-friendly. Importantly, the factors that make a parade sensory-friendly parade rely on specific things about parade itself. A few factors to consider when planning a sensory-friendly parade are:
- daytime or evening: lights are brighter at night.
- length of the parade routes: create one or more quiet zones.
- types of floats: do they include both noise and lights?
- spaces to watch the parade: indoors, outdoors or both?
What are some aspects of parades that are sensory-rich?
Many parade organizers are unaware of parade features that are a problem for people of all ages with sensory sensitivities. Did you know, that according to According to research, “Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids” by Juliana Bunim (2013), 5-16% of school-aged children experience sensory-processing disorders. Creating sensory-friendly parades helps more children than you think!
Sensory-rich events and celebrations, like parades, contribute to sensory overload. Below are common sensory-rich features you may see at most parades.
- Crowds of people gathered closely together
- Loud music
- Sudden sounds, like horns, alarms and sirens
- A variety of instruments playing
- Different music playing at the same time (think of one float, followed by another)
- Moving people
- Moving decorations
- Strong scents or smells
- Limited access to toilets
- Limited access to food and drink
6 ways to create a sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Here are tips for parade organizers to create a sensory-friendly experience that is more accessible and inclusive.
Create quiet zones on the parade route
Firstly, one of the most difficult parts of parades for children with greater sensory sensitivities is the noise. Typically, parades have music, bands and sirens that sound along the parade route. For example, many St. Patrick’s Day parades will have bagpipes, and Irish dancers with music, too.
Parade organizers, you do not have to have completely quiet parade. Although that is always an option! It is helpful to create a quiet zone along the route. What is a quiet zone? A quiet zone is a dedicated area for families to gather where noise is reduced or completely turned down/off. Mark the parade section with visible signs. Provide instructions to parade floats to turn the music off. If your quiet zone features more than reduced noise, such as lights down, too, call it a sensory-friendly zone instead.
Limit bright and flashing lights
Other common features of parades that are a problem are the bright and flashing lights. It is not uncommon on St. Patrick’s Day to see flashy green decorations. Although these are exciting, they , too, contribute to sensory overload. Therefore, to create a sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day parade, turn off flashing and bright lights in the sensory-friendly zone.
Ensure there are accessible, and family-friendly toilets available
Make sure that you have more than enough toilets. And ensure both accessible and family friendly toilets are readily available. Let people know with signs and in advance, with parade information, where to access public toilets.
Limit the number of attendees in specific zones
Another effective way to create a sensory-friendly parade experience it to limit the number of people in specific zones. Consider a ticketed parade space or having attendees register before the parade for this special area.
Provide attendees with all the information, in advance
The most important thing to do is to tell people what to expect. Let everyone know about your sensory-friendly changes. And that includes the float participants, too! For example, if you are creating a sensory-friendly zone, be explicit about what is expected of float participants. E.g., no noise, no bright or flashing lights. Make sure to let people watching the parade know what to expect in that zone, too.
Market your parade as a sensory-friendly event
A critical part of making a sensory-friendly parade is properly marketing the event as a sensory-friendly celebration! For instance, many families will dismiss the possibility of attending large community events if their children have sensory sensitivities. Therefore, you must market your St. Patrick’s Day parade as an accessible event for all children to enjoy!
4 ways to help your family manage a parade
Here are ways for families with children who experience sensory sensitivity can prepare for parades.
Practice through play
For children, learning through play is one of the most effective ways to help them learn new skills. Use play to help your child prepare to attend a St. Patrick’s Day parade. For instance, use your child’s stuffed animals or other toys to act out the parade. Additionally, be sure to describe the sensory experience in detail. For example, imagine with your child, what will they hear, smell, touch, and feel? Ultimately, this will allow your child to better understand the event. It also helps them share any worries they have. And, you can practice solutions together, through play and modelling what to do.
Bring sensory-friendly tools
Another helpful sensory-friendly tip is to bring St. Patrick’s Day parade tips is to bring sensory-friendly tools to the event. Consider your child’s sensory preference and any sensory sensitivities. What will likely be too sensory-rich for your child What can you bring along to help them manage?
Some examples of sensory-friendly tools to bring are:
- sunglasses or a hat with a brim to block light
- noise-cancelling ear muffs to block sound
- fidgets to help calm and focus
- a weighted lap pad to help calm and focus
Moreover, food and drink are also important. Hungry and thirsty children struggle more to regulate their senses. Adults, too! Parades can be long! Plan your meals and snacks, accordingly. Bring along food and drink, too!
Make time for bio breaks
An easy solution to help make your St. Patrick’s Day parade sensory-friendly is by planning bio-breaks in advance. Bio breaks include going to the toilet, eating, or drinking. Plan your toilet breaks in advance! Know where nearby toilets are located.
Most importantly, listen to your child’s cues throughout the event. If you notice they may need a sensory break for the larger crowd, have a plan ahead of time to go to a less busy, less noisy and less bright space. Sometimes, a break is all they need!
Choose your spot to watch the parade
A final tip is to choose your spot to watch the parade with planning. Find out if there is a quiet zone or a sensory-friendly zone. If there isn’t, share this blog post with parade organizers! Check out the parade route in advance.
An alternative solution to find a spot where you can watch the parade from inside. For example, is there a restaurant or café that offers a view? A public building with windows that overlook the route? Can you watch the parade from your vehicle?
Tralee’s Sensory-Friendly St. Patrick’s Day parade example
An fantastic example of an a sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day Parade is in Tralee, Ireland. Sensory Friendly Solutions had the opportunity to reach out to the parade organizers to learn more about the efforts Tralee makes to create an accessible and inclusive experience.
Tralee creates a designated “sensory street” along their parade route. For example, sensory street is a quiet zone where families can park their cars and observe the parade. Moreover, along this street, sound and sirens are turned off, chanting and singing are minimized, and fewer musicians play. Additionally, all attendees are advised of the rules of the sensory street prior to the beginning of the parade.
“In the ‘Sensory Street’ section, music is turned down to be more mindful. There is no prolonged chanting, pipe bands are changed from 1 piper playing with 1 drummer as opposed to 20 pipers. Sound systems turned down on floats and the police lights and emergency vehicle horns are turned off.”Tralee Parade Organizer
Follow these tips and create a sensory-friendly St. Patrick’s Day parade that includes more families and makes you feel included.
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