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Sensory friendly events coming to Bangor & Brewer

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BANGOR/BREWER - The lights, music, surround sound and the newest box office hit is what attracts many movie goers to theaters, but those are the exact things that keep a portion of our society from enjoying this great American past time. Over the summer, Bangor Mall Cinemas showed a gentle viewing or sensory friendly version of the Pixar flick "Brave" for families that have children with autism, ADHD or sensory issues. The staff offered a daytime version of the film with the lights on, the sound down and allowed attendees to walk around the theater during the movie. It was a successful event that now has area families wanting more.

"Sensory friendly isn't always about turning down the music and turning on the lights," said Jennifer Holesha of Stockton Springs. "Some kids crave certain stimuli. They crave either the music or the lights but not at the same time."

Holesha, a University of Maine Augusta senior, admits she has avoided certain businesses because of her son's own sensory processing difficulties.

"My son has always had trouble at the mall and with crowds or lighting," she said.

So, as part of a class project, Holesha and fellow classmate, Sherri Piersol, reached out to local businesses, agencies and advocacy groups to offer other sensory friendly events for children with physical, developmental disabilities and sensory processing difficulties. To Holesha's surprise, businesses were willing to jump at the chance to support her cause.

"I sent out emails to every place I could think of and heard back from Great Skates in Bangor and Playland Adventures in Brewer, which were excited to do something for children," said Holesha.

"Great Skates plans to not use its strobe lights [at our event] and will play its music a little louder. They have other light things they can do on the floor too, and they're going to offer a wheelchair only time and laser tag while we're there."

To her delight, Holesha discovered many of the companies she approached would've liked to offer these events free of charge, if they could.

"I was really surprised at their willingness to do whatever. It wasn't about profit. If they could've done it for free they would have, but they have to pay their employees and for the lights," she said.

Holesha is hoping to see at least 50 people attend each of the sensory friendly events planned at Great Skates in Bangor on Friday, Dec. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. and Playland Adventures in Brewer on Sunday, Dec. 16 from 2 to 5 p.m. The cost to attend the Great Skates event is $5, or free with a toy donation for Toys for Tots. Laser tag is $7 per game. The Playland Adventures sensory friendly event is free for ages 2 and younger, $4 for 3-7 year olds or $12 for ages 8 and up.

"Our goal is to provide the events, provide an opportunity for parents and care takers to get information and to make the community aware of what 'sensory friendly' means," explained Holesha. "Right now everything seems to be 'pet friendly,' and I can see in the near future businesses that will be [stamped or marked with] 'sensory friendly approved.' "

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