'Have fun together': 'Silent Disco' a joyful time for kids with intellectual disabilities

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Joelene Braun had only one thing on her mind as she approached the doors of   Dallastown Area High School: dancing with her friends.

The freshman looked forward to the event, a silent disco party for individuals with intellectual disabilities, all year.

With lights turned off and headphones playing music from two different DJ's, the low sensory event provided the perfect evening for school districts across York County to party together.

Dallastown Area High School hosted its Silent Disco event on Thursday, April 7, 2022. The event provided a low sensory experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Tina Locurto photo.

"I have lots of great friends," Braun said. "I think I felt like I wanted to go and enjoy this because we'll be dancing with headphones on."

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Dallastown's Silent Disco has been a party two years in the making. Deb Gable, a math teacher and advisor to the Unified Club, planned the April 7 event to coincide with  Autism Awareness month. 

The Unified Program combines students with and without intellectual disabilities to do the same activities. It is an organization through Special Olympics to provide athletic opportunities for all students, Gable said.

Other Unified clubs at Susquehannock, Dover, Red Lion and York Tech joined Dallastown in celebrating.

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"We just thought it's time for them to be able to feel like they're wanted at an event that they can enjoy," Gable said. "We're just going to go with quiet and in their headsets so they can control it."

The Silent Disco featured two DJs controlling different music stations. Each headset was equipped with a toggle ability so listeners could choose between several radio stations.

Dallastown Area High School hosted its Silent Disco event on Thursday, April 7, 2022. The event provided a low sensory experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Tina Locurto photo.

Though the event was — for the most part — silent, both kids and adults found new ways to have fun.

Games of "keep the balloon off the floor" was most popular among event-goers.

Additionally, the Cha-Cha Slide got the crowd unified as one. Toward the end of the night, one person got a conga line going that made most event-goers laugh.

Olivia Martin, co-president of the Unified Club, said she hopes the event will help raise awareness that events like these can bridge the community and create new friendships.

Dallastown Area High School hosted its Silent Disco event on Thursday, April 7, 2022. The event provided a low sensory experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Tina Locurto photo.

"I have so many experiences with Unified but just nothing as special as this," Martin, a senior at Dallastown, said. 

Ainsley Ellis, the co-vice president of Unified, emphasized that it's important to understand the need for low sensory events like the Silent Disco.

"With autism, many kids have different needs and abilities," Ellis said. "Everyone can participate without being uncomfortable and have fun together." 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto. 

Dallastown Area High School hosted its Silent Disco event on Thursday, April 7, 2022. The event provided a low sensory experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Tina Locurto photo.