Calgary’s Southcentre Mall is helping children with sensory needs one backpack at a time

Normally a trip to the mall can be overwhelming for kids with sensitivities, but a new initiative is hoping to ease those anxieties

By Krista Sylvester | January 14, 2022 |5:00 am

Families now have access to Southcentre’s complimentary Sensory Backpack Program.

Photo: Submitted

For those with sensory needs, a trip to the mall can be a lot for the five senses. 

The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, and the number of things to touch can especially overwhelm children with sensory sensitivities.  

“A visit to the mall can seem like a simple family outing, but for families of children with sensory sensitivities, this seemingly straightforward activity can be quite challenging,” said Catherine del Rosario, Calgary Wildrose Lions Club’s service and program chairperson.

A new partnership between Southcentre Mall, the Wildrose Lions Club, and Variety — a charity that supports children living with disabilities in Alberta — is hoping to ease some of those anxieties with a new initiative. 

A free tool at the fingertips of families visiting Southcentre Mall 

Southcentre shoppers now have year-round access to the mall’s complimentary Sensory Backpack Program, which allows families to sign out backpacks filled with resources for self-regulation, tactile input, attention focusing tools, and body awareness support items. 

One example of an item in the backpack would be noise-cancelling headphones, for example. These tools help manage the sensory bombardment children experience when going on outings by reducing excessive stimuli and helping the child focus on parental cues. 

“The whole idea behind this sensory backpack initiative is just so the families with children who are living with sensory processing disabilities in our communities will be able to have an enjoyable, positive experience,” Rosario says. 

The program is intended to help manage the sensory bombardment children experience on outings by reducing behaviours triggered by sensory overload, which is a tremendous help for parents, says local mom Megan McDonald, who utilized the backpack in a different program. 

“Sensory backpacks are an important tool for children with sensory needs. The variety of distraction items in the backpack provides individuals with the autonomy to select the items that they need to successfully engage in their current environment,” McDonald says. 

“As a mom, this means that my child has access to the tools that he needs to be successful while out in the community with our family.” 

Every child should have the same experience 

The program is a valuable way to let all children have a positive experience, Rosario says. 

“Every child should have the same experience, and this is an opportunity for children with sensory needs to experience those positive life experiences their peers are.” 

Southcentre Mall makes it a priority to offer programs and events that support children with sensory disabilities, according to marketing manager Alexandra Velosa. 

“When we were approached with the opportunity to offer these backpacks to our guests, it was a no-brainer,” she says. 

“It is inherently important to us that all of our guests feel valued and acknowledged and have the supports in place at our property to make the experience as enjoyable and seamless as possible. We could not be prouder to offer these to our community.”

Parents can sign the backpacks out at the mall at no cost year-round by visiting the Guest Service desk.  

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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