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This egg hunt means more than candy. It’s a place for children with autism to connect.

'We're just such a big family': This egg hunt is about more than just eggs

The Autism Society of the Treasure Valley hosted a sensory-friendly Easter egg hunt at River Valley Elementary School in Meridian, Idaho on March 31, 2018. The annual event offers less chaos than your typical egg hunt - and, it is a way to bring f
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The Autism Society of the Treasure Valley hosted a sensory-friendly Easter egg hunt at River Valley Elementary School in Meridian, Idaho on March 31, 2018. The annual event offers less chaos than your typical egg hunt - and, it is a way to bring f

Tiffany Hammond and her son, Colton, were nothing but smiles Saturday morning.

As Colton, a 5-year-old with autism, scoured for Easter eggs on the grassy playground at River Valley Elementary School, his mom had no fears that he’d be overwhelmed by loud noises and crowds.

The pace of the egg hunt was a little slow compared to what most people encounter, and that was just fine with her.

The Hammonds were among many families attending a sensory-friendly Easter egg hunt hosted by the Autism Society of the Treasure Valley. In past years, the event brought around 400 people, and organizers expected at least that many this year as people came and went in waves. This egg hunt is unique, as it purposefully cuts out the chaos from the running-and-shouting-and-scrambling theme prevalent at other egg hunts.

The bunny who attends is also versed in sign language for children who don’t speak.

“(Colton) loves the Easter Bunny, and he loves eggs, and he loves candy,” Tiffany Hammond said. “Sometimes, with the loudness and when they do the horns, that stuff (at other egg hunts) is too much. It’s not so overstimulating that it makes it difficult for him.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism. The disorder’s effects vary widely in severity, according to the national Autism Society. Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed language learning and difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation. Those with autism may also have symptoms related to reasoning and planning, narrow and intense interests, poor motor skills, and sensory sensitivities.

The festival itself featured more than just a search for eggs. The playground equipment at the school was available for recreation, and there were two bounce houses. People of all ages on the autism spectrum and their families were welcome.

Collectors were allowed to put 10 candy-filled eggs in their baskets; there were up to 5,000 eggs on deck if the need for more arose.

“Basically, there’s no mad dash to get eggs,” said Allison Walters, president of the society, whose 11-year-old son, Colton, has autism. “The frantic pace can be really hard for someone on the autism spectrum.”

For 11-year-old Dakota Sullivan, the egg hunt is an opportunity to meet more children like him. Terri Sullivan, Dakota’s mother, said the event is a way to bring families together and offer resources for caregivers who need direction.

“I get to do these events and meet people, and it brings tears to my eyes ... as they see kids having fun and making friends,” said Sullivan, a board member for the society. “They see it and it’s exponentially successful, and (caregivers) start reaching out and working together.”

Kayla Cruzado’s son, Asher, has gone to other Easter egg hunts. The noise and crowds proved too much for his comfort. By way of Facebook, Cruzado found the sensory-friendly hunt and attended for the first time Saturday.

As Asher showed off his haul of eggs and candy, Kayla breathed a sigh of relief.

“This one’s a lot calmer,” she said. “We took him to some other ones last year, and it was insane and he gets way overstimulated.”

While educating caregivers, the Autism Society of the Treasure Valley also makes efforts to provide school districts and teachers with information about the condition.

“They can talk to kids about autism and explain it to them and have real classes,” Sullivan said. “Then kiddos are not afraid to approach (people diagnosed with autism).”

Other upcoming events the Autism Society of the Treasure Valley will host include an April 21 run for autism, the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser, with around 1,000 participants, Walters said.

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