OKEMOS,MICH—Restaurants bustle with the sounds of joyful eating, dishes clanking and the rumbles of chatting and laughter.
This can all be very overwhelming for people with sensory processing issues, making it seemingly impossible to go out to eat for many families.
Okemos’ Outback Steakhouse is the latest business to offer a solution.
“We’ve had occupational therapists come in examined the sensory kit and tell us that we have everything you need,” said Derick Zanger, manager at Okemos Outback Steakhouse.
He said the kits are mostly aimed for people with sensory processing disorders; autism is one that many families struggle with.
“It looks like it mainly aimed at kids but most of the time they’re the ones who have the hardest time dealing with their sensory disorder,” Zanger said.
Zanger said his fiance is a paraprofessional, his best friend is a special needs teacher and he himself works with kids in Special Olympics. So, he said he’s surrounded by people that offered their input in putting this together.
“We’ve had them here only for a month but there are a lot of people coming in that wouldn’t normally come in,” Zanger said.
The box of items includes a photobook menu to help individuals with choosing their meal with a visual aid, noise-canceling headphones to block out the extra noise, and lots of calming squishy toys.
Other businesses around Okemos and Michigan have found success in implementing these kits, including Potter Park Zoo and John Ball Zoo
Darci David is a marketing manager at John Ball Zoo. She said the sensory kits it has adopted earlier this year have made people feel much more comfortable visiting. John Ball Zoo partnered with Kulture City, a program specializing in autism inclusion to supply the kits.
“We want to be as inclusive as possible and open the door for more people,” David said. ”Kulture City and organizations specializing in sensory kits have best practices and have been in the business of knowing what works well.”
David said it’s easy to collaborate with organizations and they encourage it for other businesses.
“We believe it’s a good practice to be inclusive and all businesses should be doing it,” she said.
“It really is a very easy process to do since there are collaborators like Kulture City willing to help.”
Mariah Martinez is a community engagement coordinator at Potter Park Zoo. They have also partnered with Kulture city to help families.
“A zoo can sometimes be overwhelming, especially on busy days and having access to fidget items in the bags are helpful,” Martinez said.
“We have had teenagers use the bags specifically for the headphones so that they can go into our louder buildings (Bird and Reptile can be noisy at times).”
Zanger, manager for Outback Steakhouse said the sensory kits have been made available at the franchise’s
other restaurants in Jackson and Lansing. He said he’s talking with restaurants in other states that are interested in recreating what they’ve done.
“It’s so difficult for families to go out to eat and have to worry about how other people are going to react, how are staff going to react,” Zanger said.
“With this, they don’t have to worry.”