Fun for All: West County Center
For people with autism spectrum disorders, the world can be a loud and overwhelming place. Simple things we take for granted can become tremendous undertakings. This is especially true for children. Autism Speaks is dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with autism and their families. This spring, the nonprofit is partnering with West County Center for two sensory-friendly events.
The shopping center first joined forces with the nonprofit this past holiday season for Santa Cares, an opportunity for children with special needs to visit with a specially trained Santa and have photos taken in a sensory-friendly environment. “We reached out to the local Autism Speaks chapter, and it was very excited to bring this service to the families it helps,” says Sean Phillips, marketing director at West County Center. “It was a really big success, and we got great feedback. So many families were thankful because they’d never been able to share that experience with their children.”
For the Easter season, West County Center will hold a Bunny Cares event from 9 to 11 a.m. March 18. The event also will be held at three other area malls owned by the same management company: Mid Rivers Mall, St. Clair Square and South County Center. “We know that the same families who had never been able to meet Santa are in the same situation with the Easter Bunny,” Phillips says. Families will have the opportunity to come before the mall opens, and photo packages will be available for purchase. No one will have to wait in line, and the lights and sound will be adjusted to better suit children with autism or other special needs. “Families know what to expect, and we provide children on the spectrum a chance to participate in something most kids get to do,” says Amanda Kernan, field development manager for the local chapter of Autism Speaks.
April is National Autism Awareness Month, and in recognition of this, the shopping center also will host Autism Eats from noon to 3 p.m. April 15. “I thought this was an excellent opportunity for our Restaurant Village,” Phillips says. “It will be great to provide families the opportunity to eat together in a restaurant setting.” Autism Eats will offer an autism-friendly, nonjudgmental environment for dining and socializing at Bravo! Cucina Italiana, J. Gilbert’s and McCormick & Schmick’s. “There often is a lot of anxiety when families go out with a child who is on the spectrum,” Kernan says. “This event will allow them to enjoy the experience.”
Advanced registration and reservations are required for both Bunny Cares and Autism Eats. Families can register and find more information by visiting the Connect page on West County Center’s website or the Events section on Facebook. “These are really great things we are able to do for kids in the community,” Kernan says. “It’s important to give these children experiences that a lot of people take for granted.”
West County Center is partnering with Autism Speaks for two sensory-friendly events, Bunny Cares March 18 and Autism Eats April 15. Pictured on the cover: The Litvag family at J. Gilbert’s at West County Center. For more information and to register, visit shopwestcountycenter.com or find the shopping center on Facebook.
Cover design by Julie Streiler | Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography
Pictured at top: Local events like the Autism Speaks Walk raise awareness about autism spectrum disorders.
Photo courtesy of Autism Speaks