Spookfest made easier for special needs children this year

All are invited to Spookfest at Pedro St. James on Saturday. - PHOTO: CARLO LEE

The Halloween celebration at Pedro St. James, known as “Spookfest,” will be opening its doors a little early this year to give some special young visitors time to enjoy the festivities before the crowds descend.

Organizers are inviting parents of special needs children to bring their kids along to the event early, as it will open 30 minutes earlier than usual to give the children a chance to participate in activities that they might otherwise not be able to enjoy.

Shayma Hamdi-Romanica, marketing coordinator of the Tourism Attraction Board which organizes Spookfest, said, “We have come to learn that many times special needs families are not able to fully participate in special events like this, due to anxiety issues experienced by children when in large crowds, or long lineups.”

Spookfest, now in its second year, takes place at Pedro St. James on Saturday, Oct. 28. The early opening happens at 10:30 a.m., with general admission at 11 a.m. Festivities will continue until 3 p.m.

More than 4,000 pieces of Hershey’s candy will be up for grabs throughout the day, and there will also be plenty of spooky games and activities, as well as a craft-making station hosted by the Visual Arts Society, a ghost story corner, a haunted house, face painting, bouncy castles and many more tricks and treats.

Dr. Mona Kazemi, clinical director and occupational therapist at Theraplay, said there is a need for more inclusion of children with special needs at community events.

“Our community goals this year include helping families who have children with different needs to have more accessibility to community events,” she said.

Dr. Kazemi said families can feel uncomfortable taking their children to community events sometimes because they think the child may be misunderstood if he or she is unable to speak, use eye contact, navigate the environment, or engage in activities as expected.

She explained that at times, children with special needs have difficulty in their sensory processing, which can make events trigger a meltdown due to being overwhelmed by crowds of people or loud noises.

“I truly believe that families with special needs children will be beyond grateful for this step towards inclusivity,” Dr. Kazemi said of the plan to open the Spookfest event early for these children.

“One of the main goals at Tourism Attraction Board is to ensure our national attractions are accessible to our youth, and to encourage children of all ages and abilities to interact with our local culture and heritage, and to be proud of it,” said Ms. Hamdi-Romanica, marketing coordinator of the Tourism Attraction Board.

Pedro St. James is a national historic site, and Ms. Hamdi-Romanica said Spookfest will give children in Cayman an opportunity to connect with the castle and its grounds.

“It’s a truly Caymanian Halloween experience, and we are delighted that special needs families can be a part of that this year,” she said.

Parent Shan Harriman encouraged organizers to get on board for future holiday events, such as Christmas and Easter.

“As a parent of a child that has special needs, it can be overwhelming at times to attend public functions which would draw large crowds,” she said. “The long lines, the large number of attendees, the level of noise are all factors that can be overstimulating for the child.”

Tourism Attraction Board Director Patrick Thompson said the board was grateful that Dr. Kazemi raised the issue, “as it often slips our mind.”

He added, “We hope that the exposure raised from Spookfest will encourage other event organizers to include special needs children in their itineraries, particularly on holidays such as Christmas, Halloween and Easter.”

DMS Broadcasting and the Tourism Attraction Board host Spookfest, which is supported by Hershey’s, Progressive Distributors, It’s Your Party, the Visual Arts Society and Wok ‘n’ Roll.

For general admission, attendees should bring one Hershey’s proof of purchase per person or two per family.
For more information, email [email protected] or [email protected], or call 936-0193 or 927-4070.

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