TLC, restaurants partner for ‘Sense We Matter’

Published 5:52 pm Friday, April 6, 2018

Several local restaurants recently teamed up with the TLC Community Center to take part in a pilot program designed to help families with children who have sensory issues.

Helping families who are learning how to handle sensory issues has become a personal cause for TLC Community Center Director Angie Odom since she and her husband Earl adopted their daughter Bella. At her birth, Bella was diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) due to the fact she was born addicted to prescription medication.

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One of the health issues Bella has experienced as a result of NAS is Sensory Processing Disorder, which is a condition where the individual has difficulty processing and responding to all of the sights, sounds, smells, and touches they are experiencing. Their senses are heightened, and that adds to the difficulty of processing everything at one time. They can often become overwhelmed.

“Everything they experience is so over the top,” Odom explained. “They have so much input they don’t know how to decipher it.”

Going through sensory issues with her daughter opened Odom’s eyes to a world she said she never knew existed. Going out to eat at a restaurant is a simple experience for most families, Odom said, but for a family with a child who has sensory issues, it can be overwhelming.

As Odom and her family visited different local restaurants, they learned which things in the environment there would cause issues with Bella’s senses — such as a loud hand dryer in the bathroom or lighting that is too bright — and began to avoid those places or find different areas in the restaurant to sit.

Odom decided to see if something could be established to help other families facing similar issues by reviewing different restaurants and businesses and then creating a list of tips for families visiting there containing information such as less-busy time to visit or the quietest place to sit.

She approached Dr. Christy Isbell, a professor of Occupational Therapy at Milligan College, to get her input. Isbell then spoke to students in the occupational therapy program and OT student Vanessa Odom, no relation to Angie, decided to take the idea on as her project for the program.

Vanessa Odom visited many local restaurants, and 10 signed up to have her conduct a sensory evaluation and create a tip card for families.

On Friday, representatives of Fatz Cafe, Beef O’Brady’s, Pizza Inn, Primo’s, McDonald’s, Kimbo’s, Dino’s, Chick-fil-A, JB’s, and Taco Johns attended a special event at the TLC Community Center to kick off the “Sense We Matter” program. Sense We Matter designates participating restaurants and other businesses as “sensory friendly environments.” The restaurants all received a “Sense We Matter” decal to place on their doors to let the public know they are sensory friendly, a plaque to hang inside the restaurant, and a tips card featuring information about sensory issues at that location.

“This is a big day for a lot of families, especially my own,” Angie Odom said to those in attendance. “I want to thank you all for going the extra mile and for all of your support.”

Vanessa Odom also thanked the restaurants for their participation and allowing her to evaluate their facilities.

“You are playing a vital role for these families,” Vanessa Odom said. “These kids do matter. We want people to be aware of Sensory Processing Disorder because it is a real issue and it affects real families.”

“We don’t want you to change anything, we just want families to be aware of things they may encounter,” she added. “They will have a better idea of what they are walking into and be better prepared.”