By Alexis Tymorek
April is Autism Awareness Month, and the Build-A-Bear Workshop at the Walden Galleria Mall is celeBEARating by showing its support for special guests and their families. Build-A-Bear Workshop is offering special hours for children with autism and/or sensory processing disorders to build a special bear and experience all the workshop has to offer before the store is open to the public.
Assistant Manager Debra Wright shared some information on this unique celebration that only this Build-A-Bear location offers.
How did this idea come about?
"Three years ago, Build-A-Bear workshop created an 'Autism Speaks' bear to be released in April. We were brainstorming how do a special event party to celebrate the release of the bear and decided that allowing each family a personalized and private experience would be best."
What did guests from previous years say about their experience?
"They loved it! Last year was our best turnout yet. Parents said that they would never have thought they could take their child to our store, and finally they could. Our heart ceremonies (where guests can warm the heart in their hands, jump up and down to get the heart beating, and close their eyes and make a special wish on the heart) always brought grandparents to tears. Everyone was very grateful and thankful, and the children were so happy and excited.
"We had great feedback on the Walden Galleria's Facebook page, too. One Canadian guest posted on the Build-A-Bear Workshop Facebook page asking why her local store in Canada didn't offer this."
What special accommodations do you make for these children and their families?
"Each appointment is booked for one family at a time, rather than walking in like normal. Most of the time, the whole family, including grandparents, come in with the child. We ask them if the child might prefer for us to dim the lights, turn the music off and unplug some stations that might be loud or distracting. We even offer to hand-stuff the animals rather than using the traditional stuffing machine, because the machine can be loud.
"Parents are very thankful they do not have to deal with crowds or a line. If we have the ability, we also take their picture and print it for them. They are treated like V.I.Ps!"
Why do you think an experience like this is important?
"I think it's important for three reasons. First, our founder, Maxine Clark, said, 'Every child deserves a Teddy bear.' Second, we celebrate diversity as one of our company's core values. Lastly, we want to make sure every child in the Buffalo area has the opportunity to come to our store."
Autism spectrum disorder, according to the organization Autism Speaks, can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and physical health issues such as sleep or gastrointestinal issues. One in every 68 American children identify on the autism spectrum, which is over 3 million individuals nationwide.
Build-A-Bear Workshop in the Walden Galleria mall takes individual appointments every Saturday in March and April at 9, 9:15 and 9:30 a.m. If you or someone you know would like to experience the workshop during these special hours, feel free to contact the workshop at 716-686-0242 to schedule your appointment.
Edited by Jacob Streb
Designed by Jake Pandolfi