Local nonprofit offers sensory egg hunt for neurodiverse children

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

For those looking for a less overwhelming experience while hunting for plastic eggs filled with chocolate and toys, there will be a sensory-friendly event coming to the area. 

The idea came to Leann Firestone, director and founder of the local nonprofit Neurodiverse Network, after speaking with parents and caretakers who were wary of bringing their relatives to traditional Easter egg hunts. For those on the autism spectrum or diagnosed with other conditions, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, such environments can be overwhelming.

“So, usually, the more afraid kids get trampled on,” Firestone said, noting that neurodiverse children don’t get to enjoy the same experience.

Will, Leann, and Fiona Firestone in New Cumberland on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.

The Sensory Friendly Easter Event will be held Wednesday at Faith Assembly of God Church, 806 Fishing Creek Road, New Cumberland. Participants can sign up for three separate time slots, in order to keep crowds in check: 4:45, 5:30 and 6:15 p.m.

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Firestone thought a more controlled egg hunt option with accessibility might be useful, like one she did with friends she met through Hike It Baby, a nonprofit that helps get families with young children outside together. Their egg hunting event was similar — on a weeknight for families hesitant of large crowds. 

“People like my daughter have never participated in a big egg hunt without feeling overwhelmed,” she said. “I personally don’t feel comfortable with those.”

Leann Firestone in New Cumberland on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.

Firestone said this event offers a more controlled experience because, within each time slot, there is more separation. Small groups, based on age or accessibility, can go hunting in the time slot. 

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The event also offers a few different kinds of experiences, such as a paved area for children who use walkers or wheelchairs. That option means some eggs will not be on the ground but rather dangling off a tent, so those who can’t reach the ground easily can still claim their prizes. 

Firestone said there isn’t an age limit on this and the oldest child she knew signed up was 16. She wanted to make sure those who were children at heart, even if they were over 18, were able to attend.  

About 30 families can sign up for each slot, she said.

Parents can register online through a form at https://forms.gle/KZffHrgXs3KQhwV2A that asks for information such as how many children are in the group, their ages, mobility issues and allergies. 

The free event is open to everyone of all ages, whether they are neurodiverse, have mobility issues or not. Even adults can participate, Firestone said, if they are a kid at heart. 

Ryan Rombach, 4, of Glen Rock, adds a plastic egg to his bucket while looking for more during the inaugural All Ages Inclusive Egg Hunt at Glen Rock Park in Shrewsbury Township, Sunday, March 19, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

During the egg hunt, those not hunting at the time or not participating can pet chicks and bunnies in a mini petting zoo or a lollipop garden.

The Easter Bunny will also be available for photos. Firestone said the bunny will be in a private nursery room where families can enter individually and take photos. She said it will hopefully take the pressure off children who don’t handle lines well. There will be a window where children can spy on the bunny in case they still want to see it but do not interact with it. 

If anyone gets overwhelmed at the event, a sensory break area with calming music, sensory toys and a weighted blanket will be available, Firestone said. 

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“Just so that way if anybody is having a really hard time, we’ll just kind of have them go in there if they need a break,” she said. 

The church, which is providing some of the supplies for the event, will have the food pantry open during the egg hunt along with free snacks and drinks. 

The Network will have a booth from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 16 at the New Cumberland Earth and Arts Festival in the New Cumberland Library, 1 Benjamin Plaza. At the end of April, the network will have a community fun night from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 28 at the New Cumberland Senior Center, 122 Geary Ave. There will be raffle baskets, face painting, a dance party and more. 

More information is available on the Neurodiverse Network's website at https://www.ndnet.org/.

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.