Sensory backpacks at Kingsway Mall help children cope with stimulus overload

For children with sensory issues, lights, noise and crowds can be very overwhelming in places like malls and recreation areas. 

Enter sensory backpacks. 

They are available around Edmonton at places like Edmonton Valley Zoo, Telus World of Science and as of Mar. 15 at Kingsway Mall.

The backpacks contain devices such as earbuds to block out sound, but also notebooks, weighted stuffed animals, tactile toys and puzzles. 

“Some of the items intended are to reduce unwanted stimuli,” Steven Laschowski, a board member with Variety Alberta, told CBC’s Edmonton AM. “Other items are to help focus their energy and stress and basically get them focused and feeling more calm.”

5:53Kingsway Mall offering sensory backpacks for children and young people

The loud noises in a busy mall can mean sensory overload for some children and young people. Tara McCarthy went to Kingsway Mall last week to check out new sensory backpacks that are available free of charge through the mall’s guest services desk. You can also borrow a backpack at Telus World of Science, the Edmonton Zoo, through Autism Edmonton, and at Co-Op grocery stores throughout the city. 5:53

Variety Alberta, a non-profit organization that helps children facing physical or mental challenges, launched the program providing sensory backpacks in 2020. 

Laschowski said having a backpack like this helps set “families at ease and comfortable and want to go out and explore.” 

Parents visiting the mall can go to guest services and sign out a backpack. Once they return it, desk workers clean and sanitize the items and pack, which were selected for being easily wiped down. 

Currently, there are two backpacks available at Telus World of Science — where the program began — 10 at Autism Edmonton, 10 at Coop Grocery stores in the Edmonton area, two at Edmonton Valley Zoo and four at Kingsway. 

Variety Alberta has received positive feedback from parents about the initiative, Laschowski said, sharing a comment left by mom Megan MacDonald. 

“My son has autism and was lucky enough to use one at the Telus World of Science in Edmonton this week. He was impressed with the variety of tools in the backpacks.” 

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