September 20, 2016 2:53 pm
Updated: September 20, 2016 3:30 pm

NB mom persuades town to create Christmas Parade ‘gentle zone’ for children with autism

WATCH ABOVE: Tue, Sep 20: A Sussex mom is willing to do whatever it takes to see that her daughter enjoys this years' Christmas parade. She's working with the town to establish a "quiet zone" for children with autism, which just might be a first in Canada. Global's Shelley Steeves reports.

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A woman from Sussex, N.B., has persuaded her town to develop a “gentle zone” at the annual Christmas Parade so that children with autism can enjoy the parade without getting overstimulated.

Last year, Melissa Dyer said she had to leave the parade early after her six-year-old daughter, Paige, found the loud sirens on passing emergency vehicles and horns being honked along the parade route, upsetting.

“She was doing OK until the sirens went off right in front of her and then it takes me hours to calm her down,” Dyer said.

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Dyer’s daughter was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. She gets upset, covers her ears and cries when she gets overstimulated by loud noises, Dyer says.

In July, Dyer said she contacted the town to see if it would consider designating a section of the parade route to be relatively noise free.

“It would be wonderful so that all kids could enjoy the parade and be in that section where there is no sirens and know that they are not going to be frightened,” said Dyer.

At first, Jason Thorne, the town’s community services director, was apprehensive about the idea. He says he was unsure how they could accommodate her request.

But after hearing Dyer speak from the heart with her daughter by her side in front of town council in early September, council decided to grant her request.

“She had a great message and was very passionate not only about her own daughter but also about other people with sensory issues,” said Thorne.

The decision was made by council to grant Dyer’s request.

“We are going to designate basically one-third of the parade route along Main Street as a noise free zone,” Thorne said.

Thorne added that the town will also put up signs letting parade-goers know that a one-kilometre stretch will be a designated a “gentle zone.”

Autism Canada’s executive director, Laurie Mawlam, applauds the move.

“I really believe this mom is onto something,” she said. Mawlam says the idea should be adopted in communities across the country.

“I can’t wait to see if she can make it to the end without getting frightened so she can see Santa,” Dyer said. She added she and aige are already practicing waving to Santa Claus with Paige.

The parade takes place in Sussex, N.B., on Dec. 3.

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