Sensory Sensitive Children Experience Thomas in Special Event

Updated: August 07, 2018 09:54 AM

Thomas and Friends have journeyed from the Island of Sodor to the Depot in downtown Duluth. Thousands of families joined in on the festivities this past weekend, but today was a special event for a smaller crowd. Families with children on the autism spectrum were able to enjoy a special day with Thomas for free, without large crowds and loud noises that can be overwhelming.

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General Manager of the North Shore Scenic Railroad Ken Buehler says the event can trace it's roots to two years ago, when a friend of the museum's asked if they could have a more sensory friendly moment with Thomas. 

"We backed the engine out, and the young boy came, and Thomas was a hit." Buehler said pictures of the event ignited a big community response, with a petition drive collecting 650 signatures, including Mayor Emily Larson. He said that with help from the mayor's office, they were able to start the first sensory-friendly event last year.

This year, a joint effort from Autism Speaks Minnesota, US Bank, and Mattel, the brand manager for Thomas, made this opportunity available for free. Buehler said, "Autism Speaks Minnesota was very helpful in planning out the events so that they’re structured, and that they’re not random, and that everything follows a nice, even progression, and that’s what makes it sensory-friendly.”

In her welcoming message, Mayor Larson said, “To have a sensory-friendly Thomas the Train ride, that is such a tremendous gift to kids, to families, and for people to be able to enjoy that ride together.”

A limited crowd also contributes to the sensory-friendly atmosphere. According to Buehler, their Thomas and Friends weekends can attract more than 3,000 Thomas fans in just one day. This event reduces that size by about a factor of ten, limiting train rides to 300 tickets. Unfortunately, this meant turning some families away this year. Buehler says they hope to expand the event to 2 days next year in order to include more families. In fact, this sensory-friendly Thomas experience may be taking off beyond Duluth.

“This is a landmark event here in Duluth. We have premiered this, and it’s now being watched very closely by the brand manager Mattel, and they are thinking about expanding it nationwide wherever Thomas goes,” said Buehler.

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