Taylor Johnson loves to go to the Washington State Fair in Puyallup with her two sons, 2-year-old Inkon and 4-year-old Kael.
But at times it can be a little overwhelming for the two boys — especially Kael, who wears headphones and a weighted vest when he goes to help him with his sensory-processing disorder.
“That just means all of his senses are in overdrive,” said Johnson, who lives in Puyallup. “He hears things louder than most people. Touch is sometimes too much for him. It’s kind of like the world is a little too bright.”
Kael wears the headphones and vest at crowded, loud places like the fair, but there’s one carnival where he can leave the gear at home: the annual Carnival Extravaganza at A Step Ahead.
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A Step Ahead in Pierce County is a nonprofit organization founded by executive director Candy Watkins in 2001 that provides home-based and community-based services for children from birth to age 3 who have one or more developmental delays.
The organization works with about 300 families in the Pierce County, providing special at-home instruction and communication skills, occupational and physical therapy, vision services, infant mental health services and community-based childcare, playgroups, field trips and family parties.
A Step Ahead started its annual Carnival Extravaganza as a community event 10 years ago. The carnival is unique in that it caters to kids with various developmental delays by providing sensory pools and calming areas if they get overwhelmed. Last year, more than 100 people attended.
“Community events aren’t always fun for everyone, especially for kiddos with special needs or disabilities. Parents of Children with sensory sensitivity often avoid regular events such as family outings to parks and birthday parties because these events upset their children who may react to noise, busy environments and unpredictability,” according to A Step Ahead press release.
This year’s event also will feature pony rides donated by Graham’s Four Star Farm, musical squares and art projects. Kids also will be able to make their own “sensory balls” to take home. Squeezing them helps kids who are feeling overwhelmed.
“The great thing about the carnival, too, is that it just shows there’s a place for everyone,” Johnson added. “There’s not 500 booths; it’s a lot simpler. It’s about enriching activities and not just about adding activities.”
Marti Cates has been involved with A Step Ahead for 16 years
“There’s no pressure to do anything,” Cates said. “What’s so wonderful about this is everyone manning it have worked with kids with specials before. Nothing has to be exact — it’s more of a spirit of having fun ... I think this is going to be the biggest year yet.”
The 2018 Carnival Extravaganza
When: Thursday, Aug. 2, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Where: Spanaway Elementary School, 412 165th St. S. in Spanaway. Signs will be placed to welcome guests.
Information: Visit asapc.org.