Fall is approaching and it’s time for Okies to Thunder Up! Families across the state will spend their days sporting their favorite players’ jerseys and talking to everyone about the big game: coworkers, classmates, the cashier, even the stranger in line at the store. On game day, some parents rush from work, pick up the kids and get to their seats just in time for tipoff. And as the crowd roars with excitement, some parents are at home turning down the volume on the remote. Because even if your family is the biggest Thunder fan on the block, catching the game at home has historically been the only good option for kids with sensory sensitivities.
Families who have a loved one with sensory sensitivities learn to make trade-offs and compromises almost reflexively. Parents know that the sights and sounds that come with attending a game may overwhelm and overload their young Thunder fan who has additional needs. While the family may want to show up and cheer for their players, one of their loved ones may require additional accommodations to enjoy the big game.
The Thunder staff wants everyone to have the opportunity to catch a game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. They have partnered with the inclusive-conscious nonprofit, KultureCity, and together, created a sensory-friendly experience for fans with additional needs who want to cheer their team to victory.
For families who prefer to avoid a bulk of the crowd, it is recommended to enter the arena through the east doors, located directly beside the Marriott parking garage, and close to sections 108-109 as well as family restrooms. Fans of all abilities will be greeted warmly by staff who have gone through sensitivity training provided by KultureCity. Immediately to the right is a guest service desk where an assortment of weighted lap pads and 50 sensory bags containing items such as fidgets, headphones and visual icon cards are available to check out, free of charge. Sunglasses are even provided for light-sensitive fans. A lanyard with KultureCity’s sensory icon is also included for anyone in the group to wear in order for staff to identify a family from afar who may need an assist with an overwhelmed child or some extra high fives and thumbs up for an outing that most take for granted.
The only requirement for checking out a bag or lap pad is to leave a photo ID with one of the staff members manning the sensory station.
“You do not have to be a certain age, have a formal diagnosis, or ‘prove’ anything to us to check out a sensory bag,” said Joy Dyer, Thunder’s manager of guest relations. “If you ask for one, we will give you one, no questions asked.”
Once the bag is returned, every item is sanitized before being reissued to the next family.
The Sensory Room
A child on the verge of a meltdown can mean trouble on family outings. Taking a break from all of the stimulation and sensory input can be paramount in de-escalating an overstimulated loved one. The sensory room inside the Chesapeake Energy Arena provides a safe space for your children to take a break and relax if the buzzers, whistles and cheering become a little too much.
Located near section 112, the sensory room can be accessed by walking through the First Aid room and into a small sitting area that leads to the Sensory Room and also a private restroom for families who may need to assist their older child. The room is available to overstimulated fans who need a moment to regroup or relax before returning to the game. Additionally, nursing mothers may make use of the room for privacy if desired. Since only one family is allowed to use the room at a time, a 15-minute limit is requested if others are waiting, however, staff will never tell a family they must leave the room before they are ready.
Experts at KultureCity carefully designed the sensory room to be a relaxing, non-stimulating environment. Walls are painted calming tones and a water feature pumps rows of moving bubbles that imitate a soft bubbling brook. There are beanbags and crashpads available for guests to relax on, as well as a rocking glider. A beautiful custom designed piece of wall art made from textured wooden pieces and painted in the Thunder colors was donated by KultureCity for those who enjoy tactile input. Various puzzles and textured wall art has been positioned at specific heights to purposefully invite the young child, the lanky teen or adult to comfortably experience the calming effects of the room.
Partners who need to split up the children to de-escalate can easily do so. Next door at section 113 is the Kids Zone, where your busier little buddies can find fun activities to keep their attention. The Thunder Kids Cart is also in this area where kids can get a variety of snacks for only $1 each. Persons who have dietary restrictions can find gluten-free food options by asking any staff member or by downloading the Thunder app and searching under “Fan Assist.”
Families going to a game on a Sunday will be able to watch their child have the opportunity to go down on the court after the game and take one free throw shot.
For more information about the Thunder and their commitment to a positive sensory-inclusive game day experience for all, contact the OKC Thunder business office at 405-208-4800 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Thunder game isn’t the only local family attraction getting some assistance to be more inclusive. KultureCity has also partnered with the Oklahoma City Zoo to make zoo adventures easier for the sensory-sensitive family members. Learn more at www.metrofamilymagazine.com/inclusive-zoo.