A Guide to Visiting the South Florida Fair with a Child on the Autism Spectrum
By: Candi Spitz
It’s once again time for the South Florida Fair! For most families, this is one of the most anticipated events annually in Palm Beach County. For families with unique abilities or sensory concerns, events such as the fair come with numerous challenges. From the bright lights and sounds to crowds and more it can be a sensory nightmare. Unfortunately, many families just choose to forego the experience rather than deal with the potential of meltdowns that could occur. Luckily, that no longer needs to be the case here in Palm Beach County.
A Sensory Inclusive Fair
If you haven’t heard…. The South Florida Fair is Sensory Inclusive!
In an effort to ensure that all individuals can participate in the fair without feeling excluded or overwhelmed, the South Florida Fair has teamed up with KultureCity, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to creating sensory accessibility and inclusion for those with invisible disabilities. Family members can rest assured knowing that staff members have been trained by medical professionals to both recognize attendees with sensory needs and to handle sensory overload situations. There are also many tools in place to ensure that individuals of all abilities can have fun at the fair.
We understand that new experiences often come with increased anxiety, so I have put together some helpful tips to ensure that you have a positive experience.
What To Do Before You Go
Download the KultureCity App and the South Florida Fair App!
If this is your first time attending the fair, KultureCity has a great Social Story customized to our South Florida Fair available on their app. Simply download the app, search for the location of the event, and click on the tab “Social Story” at the top of the page. Social stories are a fantastic tool for helping your loved one understand what will happen throughout the day from arrival, through security, getting a sensory bag, different experiences and more. Getting this visual cue of what is coming next greatly reduces anxiety and will help to create a more positive experience for the family.
Another useful tool in preparing for a new experience is to watch videos to familiarize the individual with the activity. You Tube is a great resource, and the South Florida Fair has its own channel which will allow the individual to experience some of the lights and sounds and rides before arriving.
And probably the most valuable resource in preparing for the trip is to download the South Florida Fair app. This is such a great way for families to familiarize themselves with each ride. From the home screen on the app – click on rides – and “view list of rides here.” Not only can you see what each ride looks like, you can see the rides in action!!! Simply click on the ride, click on “more info,” and scroll down to watch videos of each individual ride. Again, by removing the fear of the unexpected, you greatly reduce the stress and anxiety of the unknown.
Planning Your Visit at the South Florida Fair
Rides For All Thrill Levels
There are so many incredible rides available at the fair to meet all thrill levels. However, if you are unsure of whether or not the individual will want to enjoy the rides – please be aware that on Fridays and Saturdays after 7 pm purchase of admission AND a ride wristband is required for entry for ALL guests ages 11-17. Plan to arrive before this time if you do not want to be required to purchase a ride wristband.
Avoid the Crowds
Keep in mind that Friday and Saturday’s evenings are also the most crowded, which may pose a challenge for sensory needs. Weekdays, mid-afternoon to early evening, tend to have a more manageable crowd as well as Sundays, morning through early afternoon.
Bag Policy: What Can You Bring?
Bags brought to the Fair must be clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bags (maximum size of 12” x 6” x 12”) or small clutch bags of a maximum size of 6” x 9”. Clutch bag does not need to be clear. If you require the use of a diaper bag, they are permitted and will be subject to search at the entrance. The Security Team and Staff are very understanding of medical needs. Never be afraid to discuss your situation upon arrival if you are unsure if you can bring a medically needed item into the fair.
Sensory Needs: Sensory Bags & Quiet Areas
One of the best additions in this partnership with KultureCity is that Sensory bags are available to borrow. These can be found at the following Guest Service Areas: The Main Expo Entrance, the Hospitality Building, the Oasis at the Agriplex and the Yesteryear Village Welcome Center. These bags are equipped with noise canceling headphones (provided by Puro Sound Labs), fidget tools and verbal cue cards (produced in conjunction with Boardmaker).
Weighted Lap Pads are available, if needed, at the Main Expo Entrance.
While not included in the bags, a useful tool to bring if the individual has light sensitivities is SUNGLASSES! Bright lights can be overstimulating. And especially in the evening hours, the bright lights of the rides and vendors can become distracting. Sunglasses worn while in lines or even walking around can help create a calmer environment. Note: it is not recommended that the individual where the sunglasses on rides.
There are also two Quiet Areas available for use when the individual starts to feel overstimulated: one in the Bink Museum in Yesteryear Village and the other in the Artist Alley in Building 2 on the covered concourse. Taking a pause in one of the quiet rooms is an ideal way to allow the individual with sensory needs to regulate their emotions and reduce stress and anxiety so that they may continue to enjoy the remainder of their day. A full map of the fair is available on the app, which can help guide you to these locations.
Sensory Activities: Rides, Shows, and Food Vendors
Another great way to ensure that the individual is not overstimulated is to engage in a variety of sensory activities, not just the rides, to balance some of their sensory seeking needs. Alternating between rides, shows, food and experiences is a great way to allow the individual to regulate their senses and not become overstimulated. This year’s fair “Dive Into The Fun” features many interactive activities. For those who like hands-on experiences there is a Stingray Touch Tank & Feeding, for those who are more visual check out The Palm Beaches TV Theater Immersive Underwater Experience and the Live Shark Encounter. There are also a variety of shows from Pirates to Sea lions to Ice Skating and a Cowboy Circus! Check out the Agriculture complex for petting zoos and more. And don’t forget about the numerous stages featuring some incredible musical talent!
The South Florida Fair can truly be a fun experience for ALL regardless of sensory needs or abilities thanks to their new Sensory Inclusive Certification with KultureCity. And remember that their staff have been trained in sensory needs – if you have any questions or concerns, their team is available to help. I understand that planning for new experiences always comes with a level of stress and anxiety, but I hope that these tips will help ease some of the worry you may have in preparing for your day.