Play and Learn with Neurodiversity Options

Play and Learn with Neurodiversity Options

Atlanta offers various accommodations and options for different types of learners.

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

The Georgia Aquarium offers sensory times, headphones, and other accommodations, with some specifically focused on autism.
The Georgia Aquarium offers sensory times, headphones, and other accommodations, with some specifically focused on autism.

East Cobb resident Noach Pawliger recently initiated Niflaot, The Jewish Exceptional Learners Initiative, to serve as an “action tank” to support families, educators, schools, and students to address Jewish children with learning challenges.

Neurodiversity includes those on the autism spectrum and much more. With heightened awareness of those with special needs, theaters, museums, and a wide swath of entertainment experiences are making accommodations for the neurodiverse to participate in the mainstream.

These accommodations might include headphones to cancel noise, softened lights, and less busy entry times for reduced commotion. Recent academic studies show that one in every five children has a learning and attention-related disorder. It’s forecasted in the coming decade that the number will magnify to one in three. Sometimes, this population is stigmatized as the “kids who can’t sit still or follow directions.” Also of note, one in six U.S. veterans fall in this category.
Pawliger recommends nature as the best resource.

Pawliger touts being in nature as one of the most grounding experiences and recommends Chattahoochee Nature Center.

“The Chattahoochee and Dunwoody Nature Centers are very ‘hands on’ both in and outdoor. Chattahoochee has times when they bring the animals out, hiking trails, and access to the river. Get these kids outside … even if it’s rainy, put on boots and get in the mud — the ultimate sensory experience. Nature is a safe haven and expands the mind … healthy for social and emotion well being.”

Pawliger also recommends Lego exhibits and local hero Scott Gross’s Superclub with Friday hikes for kids. Also, a Jewish mom with two neurodiverse children has formed Community Bugs with “parties” and creative meetups.

A nationwide nonprofit group, Kulture City, is aligned with many of Atlanta venues like the Michael Carlos Museum at Emory University which has a sensory room, hands out free bags with “fidgets” and noodles, toys, and headphones to make the experience seamless for preschoolers, toddlers, and teens. Kulture City uses resources to effect change and advance sensory needs in 1,000 venues in six countries. Some even have weighted laptops and verbal cue cards.

Noah Pawliger is a local expert, parent, and resource in the Jewish education neurodiversity space.

Another popular, Jewish-owned, relatively new addition to Buckhead is the Sloomoo Institute where kids can literally dig in and relish in goo, make fragrant slime, and even get it dumped full body from above (while wearing protective hooded plastic gear). They also have a company philosophy of “walking the walk” with neurodiversity advancement.

Karen Robinovitz, Sloomoo co-founder and co-CEO said, “Inclusivity is the foundation of what Sloomoo Institute is all about. We designed every space with that in mind, from ADA accessibility throughout our venues, to offering special sensory hours that tailor the experience by turning down the volume on the music and limiting ticket availability to cater to an audience with heightened sensitivities. We also offer noise canceling headphones and nose plugs to guests who may be craving more quiet and less scent stimulation. It was important to us from day one to create spaces that people of all ages and abilities could enjoy — and we know from having hosted over a million diverse visitors that we’ve made good on that promise.”

The Sloomoo Institute in Buckhead is an example of a venue that accommodates neurodiversity for both visitors and staff.

Sara Schiller, fellow Sloomoo co-founder and co-CEO, has a daughter (with a rare genetic disorder, Angelman’s Syndrome) who is not able to do activities for daily living on her own and is “incredibly joyful.”

Schiller stated, “Through her, I have learned to truly appreciate and celebrate those who think and process in different ways. It has made me a better person and, I believe, it makes for a better working environment when you include team members who represent neurodiversity. We’re not just committed to inclusion on the experiential side — but we’re also proactively hiring people who are neurodiverse to power our team.”

Sloomoo’s goal is a 10 percent neurodiverse work force by 2025.

Other venues that cater to this population include Atlanta Dance Central with physio jazz programs, Center for Puppetry Arts, The Children’s Museum, Chuck E. Cheese, Georgia Aquarium, Tellus Science Museum, Zoo Atlanta, Chastain Horse Park, some AMC Theatres, iFly Indoor Skydiving, Lekoteck, and North Metro Martial Arts.

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