Resch Center, Green Bay, Wis.

Autism “Safe Space” at Resch Center, Green Bay, Wis.

Venue operators are tasked with catering to the needs of a variety of guests, including those with autism.

One arena in Green Bay, Wis., opted to transform a 500 sq.-ft. room into a place where those with sensory challenges, emotional and/or mental disorders can unwind and decompress when anxious at an event. The room is named the Sensory Safe Zone.

The 10,000-seat Resch Center at Brown County Veterans Memorial opened a “safe space” for those with such needs 14 months ago and has since seen great success with fielding anxiety of guests, including those with autism.

“We have a huge population of children with special needs, whether it be a sensory disorder or autism,” said Melissa Martinson, client relations coordinator for PMI Entertainment Group that manages the venue.

Martinson got the idea to create a sensory room from the Event and Arena Managers Conference held in Los Angeles in June of 2015.

“We kind of took an idea that we had learned about at (that conference) and decided to make a permanent sensory room,” she said.

Since the venue debuted the room in November of 2015, more than 500 guests have utilized the space in the last 14 months, Martinson said.

She believes that the Resch Center is the only venue in the country that has a room designated specifically for such purposes.

Martinson and other venue officials reached out to the CP (Cerebral Palsy) Center of Green Bay to help design the room.

“Our intent was never to create a McDonald’s playground. We wanted to keep it geared towards those who have special needs,” Martinson said.

The room is equipped with beanbags, rocking chairs, a swing and mats so that children can decompress by rolling around on the floor.

The Sensory Safe Zone is not just for children, it also caters to adults and teenagers who struggle with autism and various sensory disorders, Martinson said.

“We can set it up in a way that makes it seem spacious and welcoming. We do not staff it, however members of our guest services team are right outside the main lobby should anyone need assistance,” she said.

The National Autism Association commends the Resch Center for offering such a space at the venue.

“It’s wonderful, and we’re starting to see a lot more of that throughout the country,” said Wendy Fournier, president of the Rhode Island-based association.

Many movie theaters are offering what Fournier calls “judge free zones” for families who have autistic children.

“Their sensory issues can make it very difficult for them to enjoy shows, even movies,” Fournier said, noting that one in 68 children are autistic, making sensory rooms important for event patrons. “It’s getting harder and harder to find someone who doesn’t know someone whose affected by autism. It all comes down to having compassion to individuals that have autism.”

Fournier understands autistic needs very well, as her 16-year-old daughter is autistic.

“It doesn’t take a lot to provide a safe area where these families an go. It means the world to these families,” she said.

The Resch Center has spent $3,500 to date refurbishing the sensory room. Rather than building a space for the Sensory Safe Zone, the venue took an underutilized room and gave it a specific purpose.

Last month, the Resch Center added a closed circuit television to the room, giving people the option to watch events happening at the venue on screen while in the room.

The room is free and can be accessed anytime.

Interviewed for this story: Wendy Fournier (401)835-5828; Melissa Martinson (902)405-1267.