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Kids with autism get quiet time for fun at Suffolk Farm Day

Zak Knoll, 5, of Holtsville, who has sensory

Zak Knoll, 5, of Holtsville, who has sensory processing disorder, interacts with baby goats during Sensory-Friendly Hour at the Suffolk County's Baby Animal Farm Day in Yaphank on Sunday, May 7, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

Children with autism or other sensory processing disorders were welcomed an hour ahead of the public to feed goats and pet piglets, bunnies and baby chickens in a more relaxed setting Sunday at this year’s Suffolk County Baby Animal Farm Day.

About 75 children and parents attended the event’s first Sensory-Friendly Hour, held from 9 to 10 a.m. at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center in Yaphank, according to Vicki Fleming, director of Suffolk’s 4-H youth programs.

Crowds were kept small to limit noise and give children plenty of space to roam the farm, said Debora Thivierge, founder of the ELIJA School, a Levittown-based rehabilitative center for students with autism. A designated quiet area was also set up for children who may feel overwhelmed, and toys were available at various stations to help them de-stress, said Thivierge, who helped coordinate the event.

According to Fleming, the Suffolk County Farm is planning to host more sensory-friendly events, including at the farm’s annual Pumpkinfest, typically held in October.

Aaron Knoll of Holtsville looked on as his son, Zak, 5, crouched near a group of baby goats that ate pellets from the palm of the boy’s hand.

Zak has epilepsy and sensory processing disorder and is “easily overwhelmed when there’s a lot of people,” his father said.

“I can’t say enough how great this event has been for us,” said Knoll, who snapped photos of Zak with a brown goat that he named Fred. “It usually gets so packed, which can make it pretty hard for him. When it gets like that he can shut down.”

The Knolls attended last year’s Baby Animal Farm Day, which draws hundreds of people, but had to leave early because Zak had a seizure, Knoll said.

Diane Geringer, of Smithtown, said she hopes to attend more sensory-friendly events with her two sons Joe, 12, and Kyle, 13, who are both on the autism spectrum.

The boys gazed down into a plastic foam incubator, which warmed a half-dozen eggs that were just hours away from hatching, before they sat down to enjoy ice cream cones.

“I really hope to see more of these types of things offered,” Geringer said. “It’s a wonderful event for us and anything to educate people about autism is great.”

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