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WellSpan Philhaven, Target partner to offer ‘sensory-friendly’ holiday shopping event

Thursday, December 22, 2016


WellSpan Philhaven and Target staff partnered to offer a sensory-friendly shopping experience in Lancaster Saturday, Dec. 10.

Event allowed children with autism or other developmental disabilities the rare opportunity to enjoy their shopping experience

Shopping at the holidays can be overwhelming for anyone. The flashing displays. The crowds. The noise. But for someone with autism or a developmental disability, these factors can make shopping an outright impossibility.

That is why WellSpan Philhaven teamed up early on Dec. 10 with the Target store on Route 30, east of Lancaster, to offer a special “sensory-friendly” shopping environment – sensitive to the needs of those with autism and developmental disabilities.

The idea for this special event was born locally by Christopher Zablocki, Lancaster Target store team leader, because several Lancaster Target employees have children with sensory sensitivity.

Dale Brickley, senior director of innovation and new service development, WellSpan Philhaven, noted the strong response and turnout of staff who were uniquely qualified to support the event – which was a tremendous illustration of WellSpan Philhaven’s guiding commitment to finding a better way to serve those in need.

Ahead of the event, Vicki Daniel and Michael Fueyo, MD, of WellSpan Philhaven’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, coordinated an hour-long sensory integration training for the Target staff. They discussed triggers for sensory overload and walked through the store to make it sensory friendly.

Modifications included placing tape over sensors of animated or loud toys, and turning off the more than 40 televisions that are typically on during shopping hours.

Additionally, the lighting was adjusted down to 25 percent of its normal level, and no music played for the two-hour shopping time.

Corporate representatives from Target engaged in the event, and arrived to lower the “beep” on the cash registers and turn off the sounds on the price checkers throughout the store.

To limit ambient noise, the hissing of the hot chocolate machines, the steamers in the kitchen and the trash compactor were all turned off. Target even offered free Starbucks coffee and bottled water to parents while they shopped.

Clinical staff – including three doctors – were on site at 5:45 a.m. to serve as greeters and to circle the store to assist families, ahead of the event that lasted from 6 to 8 a.m. Eight families, totaling about 30 shoppers, came out early to enjoy the sensory-friendly shopping experience.

“It was heartwarming that so many WellSpan Philhaven staff and leaders came out to this special morning,” Brickley said.

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