Kinney Autism & Support
While many children look forward to dressing up and collecting candy, Halloween may be stressful for families affected by autism, with new social rules and situations presenting sensory challenges for children.
Kinney Autism & Support
Devon Lavery ’16 began working as a SCHOLAR in 2013. Thanks to her time at the Kinney Center, when she graduated in 2016 with a degree in Elementary and Special Education, Devon had a breadth and depth of 1-on-1 experience in the field of autism that was unmatched by most college graduates. In 2017 she went on to earn a Master’s degree and works today at AIM Academy, which utilizes small group instruction for students with learning differences. Devon’s time at Kinney was invaluable to her current role. “During my time at the Kinney Center, I learned the value of progress - big or small. I learned that progress doesn't come easy and often times requires creative and flexible teaching methods," says Lavery.
Devon’s service to the Kinney Center didn’t end upon graduation. Every December she stops by with two special guests from the North Pole. Mr. and Mrs. Claus, aka Devon’s parents, moonlight as the most energetic, thoughtful and flexible Mr. and Mrs. Claus you’ll ever meet. They have been volunteering at Kinney Center’s Sensory Santa event since 2014. "It’s been a joy seeing many of the same kids year after year, and watching them grow," says Mrs. Claus (Joanne Lavery).
Families affected by autism often have difficulty navigating the hustle and bustle of visiting Santa at the mall. Sensory Santa takes care of this, allowing families to choose a specific time instead of waiting in line, and offering a private room. Each family is given a 20-minute time block so that kids can have time to warm up and get comfortable with Santa. "I love interacting with the kids that never had the opportunity to see Santa before. Leaving them with a positive experience is even better," says Mr. Claus (Kevin Lavery).
Additionally, the Kinney Center provides elves in the form of Kinney SCHOLARS to help navigate behaviors, blow bubbles and act silly to capture the perfect Santa picture. "Our choice was easy," says Kinney parent, Jared Rice. "Mall locations are typically mobbed, hurried, not well organized, and more focused on moving the line than the needs of any individual kids. For our kids, that's a perfect storm that would only result in frustration and tears. Kinney, on the other hand, has always shown fantastic insight into how to organize events for kids on the spectrum. They think of the little things that other (even sensory-friendly) locations don't, like providing enough staff so that kids don't feel like they need to compete with each other to get help, or like walking kids to and from the studio instead of herding everyone into a single queue. In short, where we expect other excursions to result in high stress levels for us and hit-or-miss enjoyment for our kids, we are confident that when we go to a Kinney event, our job will be easy and the kids will have a blast!"
This year the Lavery family provided little Christmas miracles to 17 Kinney Center families, in the form of a positive encounter with Saint Nick, and a happy family photo they will cherish for years to come!