ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – An annual holiday celebration opened the door to neurodiverse families this holiday season.
Dazzling Nights at Leu Gardens is known for the live music and immersive light displays around the holidays. This year it will also be known for the first of its kind sensory sensitive holiday light experience in Central Florida.
“I think it helps the family heal a little bit, sometimes having a child with differing abilities is very difficult and sometimes it’s a little traumatic so having these experiences helps that family kind of gel,” Crystal Stephens, Pediatric Occupational Therapist for AdventHealth East Orlando said.
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Stephens is a specialist in Central Florida, focused on therapy that is designed to help neurodiverse children become accustomed with routines, like brushing teeth, getting dressed, and playtime. She said this time of year can create extra pressure for families with children on the Autism spectrum and behavioral disorders.
“Children who are typical find them exciting and awe-inspiring and they’re really engaged, but those same things that make them exciting may make them overwhelming for children on the spectrum or children with other challenges,” Stephens said.
Dazzling Nights at Leu Gardens hosted a sensory sensitive experience for families that incorporated lowered music, dimmed lighting and quiet zones for families to take breaks.
“Families can actually sit with Santa and tell them what they want like it changes their whole world,” Stephens said.
The event is the first of its kind in Central Florida to incorporate sensory sensitive adjustments to a holiday lighting experience. Stephens said it’s another shining example of the changes to workplaces, schools, and even her own profession that will benefit the children she works with.
“For a very very long time we were just focusing on awareness like just getting it out there, like hey these diagnoses exist, but now I really feel like the literature, as well as organizations in general are starting to celebrate that diversity,” Stephens said.
The Dazzling Nights sensory sensitive experience was held on Nov. 29.
“Reframing it forces everybody in the conversation to really consider what their bias is and what they’re bringing to the table as well,” Stephens said.