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Ten restaurants join program to help children who are very sensitive to lights, sounds or smells

John Thompson • Apr 7, 2018 at 11:26 PM

ELIZABETHTON —A busy lunch hour in a popular restaurant can be a fun place, with wait staff scurrying to get orders completed and lots of customers greeting friends while the aromas of delicious food fills the room and the clatter of the kitchen adds to the sounds.

That experience may be frightening for some small children who have sensory-processing disorders, though. The sights, sounds and smells of a busy restaurant can overwhelm a small child who is already extra sensitive to these stimulations.

Socialists believe the number of sensitive children could be growing from several causes. These include children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and children with autism.

Two women with the last name of Odom (not related) have joined together to start a pilot program that can help the families of children with sensory precessing disorders enjoy a good meal at a popular restaurant.

Angie Odom is the executive director of the TLC Community Center, an organization that provides assistance to young mothers and children on many different matters. She and her husband, Earl, have also adopted a child who was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and has sensory processing disorders. She said her child’s sensitivity to the slightest sounds and images made it difficult to enjoy a meal at a restaurant.

She said many things that an adult would not even notice, such as a noisy ice dispenser, or a hand dryer in the restroom, or even a knife cutting food in the kitchen could cause discomfort in a sensitive child. She realized that many more families must also be facing the same difficulty in eating out in public.

That was where Vanessa Odom was able to help. She is a student at Milligan College, majoring in occupational therapy under professors Jil Smith and Christy Isbell. Angie Odom discussed her family’s problem with Isbell. The professor’s suggested allowing Vanessa Odom to take on the problem as her project for the annual Milligan College Occupational Therapy Expo.

Vanessa Odom conducted her work by approaching local restaurants and explaining the problem that most adults never notice. She offered to conduct sensory evaluations for those restaurants willing to participate.

She received approvals from 10 restaurants and set about conducting the sensory evaluations. Her findings were then placed on custom-made 10-inch by 5-inch cards for each of the restaurants. The brochures provide information on the busiest hours, the sound and light challenges, the best place to sit to avoid too much stimulation and other information.

The cards are designed to be available to families as they come in the restaurant. There are also window stickers for the families to know the restaurants are participating in the program, which the Odoms have called “Sense We Matter.”

Vanessa Odom said the purpose of the program was not to change anything in the restaurants, jut to help the parents have a better idea of what the restaurant is like and to be prepared for things that may affect their child.

In appreciation of the cooperation of the 10 restaurants who agreed to participate in the program, Angie Odom invited the owners and general managers to come to the TLC on Friday to receive the cards for their restaurant and colorful “Sense We Matter” plaques.

The participating restaurants are: Taco Johns; Kimbos; McDonald’s of Elizabethton; Pizza Inn of Elizabethton; Chick-fil-A of Elizabethton; Dino’s; Beef O’Brady’s of Elizabethton; Primo’s; JB’s; and Fatz Cafe.

Angie Odom said “Sense We Matter” is a pilot program and is the only one like it that she and Vanessa know about. But she said that the number of children with sensory processing disorders is expected to grow over the next five years, so the program may be just the beginning of efforts to accommodate their needs.

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