ChildServe at the Iowa State Fair

Guy concentrating on pushing buttons that light up to test reflexes.

The lights and sounds of the Iowa State Fair were a little lower on Wednesday, August 17, 2022, for the first ever Sensory-Friendly Morning at the Fair, presented by ChildServe. With thousands of things to do, see or eat, the Fair might seem a bit overstimulating to some, so ChildServe‘s team partnered with the Fair to develop ways to make the event more manageable for those with sensory processing disorders.

The Sensory-Friendly Morning featured a wide range of sensory programming to ensure kids of all abilities could enjoy the Fair, and specially trained volunteers, including ChildServe occupational therapists and students from the Drake University Occupational Therapy program, were there to provide support.

For kids like Tatum, who has autism, and his mom Sarah, the Sensory-Friendly Morning enabled them to visit the Fair as a family together for the first time. 

“Social interaction and this kind of stuff is really hard,” said Sarah, in an interview with WHO-13. “[The Sensory-Friendly Morning] means so much because I would be scared to take him any other time. We spend most of our time at home where we’re safe and comfortable because I don’t know what he’s going to do, or when he’s going to have a meltdown.”


Calming Room 

One special addition was the Calming Room, sponsored by ChildServe. The room provided a quiet place to calm down and recharge from the many sights, sounds and experiences of the fair.

When children experience big feelings at the fair, such as anger, excitement or anxiety, this can impact their ability to enjoy the fun,” said ChildServe Occupational Therapy Team Lead Samantha Hahn. “The calming room helped families and children experience the fair in a positive way by providing a safe space to regulate when they needed.”

Along with kids and families, Governor Kim Reynolds came out to show her support for the Sensory-Friendly Morning, check out the Calming Room, and spent time hearing from families about their experience.

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Shout out to our Sensory-Friendly Morning Volunteers for using their expertise and passion to help families access fun at the Iowa State Fair!

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Adult-sized Changing Table 

Another change implemented by the Iowa State Fair this year was the addition of an adjustable, adult-sized changing table. The inclusive changing table allowed families to enjoy the fair comfortably and safely. This year, it was located in the First Aid Building marked with a red cross under the sky glider near Fun Forest.

“It really does help families like ours plan for the day, often resulting in being able to stay longer because there is a safe, private and dignified changing space,” said parent and advocate Nancy Baker Curtis, who was interviewed by WHO-13.


Sensory Programming 

Kids and families enjoyed a wide range of activities designed specifically for those with sensory processing needs. Thank you to the Iowa State Fair for helping to make this inclusive day of fun possible for children in Iowa!

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ChildServe improves the health and well-being of nearly 5,800 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, injuries, and other special healthcare needs.

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