Salvation Army trades bells for glow sticks so kids with autism can ring in the holiday

Salvation Army trades bells for glow sticks so kids with autism can ring in the holiday
World-Herald News Service

Volunteers swapped out their bells for something a little quieter on Monday.

Instead of bell ringing around the Salvation Army’s red kettles, volunteers waved red glow sticks.

Autism Action Partnership helped to organize the sensory-friendly holiday outing at Hy-Vee, near 132nd Street and West Dodge Road.

“It’s giving to the Salvation Army, but also it’s giving our kids a chance to experience a holiday tradition,” said Amber Brache, coordinator of public engagement for Autism Action Partnership.

About 12 families had signed up to cover the two bell-ringing shifts. The shifts, which are typically about two hours, were split into 30-minute sessions to make it easier on kids.

Kourtney DeFreece, who works for the Salvation Army as director of corporate relations, also helped with the event. DeFreece has two sons with autism.

Each child with autism is different, DeFreece said. Her oldest, 6-year-old Henry, is sensitive to repetitive sounds like bell ringing and white noise, as well as crowds.

“Bringing our kids into the public and making sure they’re getting all the experience a neurotypical child would — at their own pace and comfort level — is really important,” she said.

In addition to helping kids and teens with autism, organizers expected the event to help create awareness in the community, too.

“(It) doesn’t look a certain way, speak a certain way or live a certain way,” DeFreece said. “It’s not limited to what individuals on the autism spectrum can do. It will show the public that if folks who are neurodiverse can do this, they can, too. It really works to break down the barrier.”