Alberta non-profit introduces resource program for children with sensory disabilities
By Katrina Turchin | May 12, 2022
Spending a day at the mall is some people’s idea of fun, but families with children with sensory sensitivities have a different experience. Variety Alberta found a way to make outings more enjoyable for families experiencing this.
“We implemented the Sensory Backpack Program in 2020 as a way to help families, especially families with kids that have some sort of sensory disability,” says Steve Laschowski, director at Variety. “Their world can seem pretty small. So we wanted to put something out as a way to help people in the community who want to go and experience more.”
The crowds, noises and even lights can all feel overwhelming to a child with sensory processing disabilities. They don’t have the same ability to filter external stimuli that able-bodied people do, which is why Variety Alberta, a non-profit supporting children with disabilities, created the Sensory Backpack Program.
The program, which has been implemented in places like Edmonton Co-Op, Edmonton Valley Zoo and Telus World of Science, features 30 sensory backpacks that are filled with resources for self-regulation, tactile input, attention focusing tools and body awareness support items. These include flashcards, noise-canceling headphones, books and fidget toys. As the program was introduced during the pandemic, it was important to choose items that can be easily sanitized.
The program was most recently introduced to Kingsway Mall, where a handful of backpacks are available at customer service for guests to sign out for free.
“Some of the things that made Kingsway a really good fit for it is that it’s a public location where there is a lot of stimuli that can be a trigger for a lot of kids, a lot of families,” says Laschowski. “Knowing that there’s the resources there, knowing that there is something that they can still go and do and we’ll support them definitely made it a really good fit.”
The program was developed in partnership with the Edmonton Rotary Club of Strathcona, who helped put together each backpack before they were sent to their respective organizations.
“It’s been really fulfilling across the board and a fulfilling opportunity for a lot of different people in a lot of different areas to be involved,” says Trina Vandermeer, secretary and chair of the community portfolio for the Edmonton Rotary Club of Strathcona.
The most important aspect that Steve and Trina want people to know is that the program isn’t only for children with sensory sensibilities — it’s for anyone that needs it.
“It’s an accessibility program, but the truth is this doesn’t just have to be for parents with children with exceptional needs,” says Vandermeer. “This is for any parent that goes into these facilities that has a tired child or a child who has sensory overload that just needs something to distract or focus on. We really want to make sure that there’s no stigma attached to it. Anybody that needs it can request it.”