HOUSTON — The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo hosts millions of people each year.
Over the last eight decades, people with special needs, like sensory sensitivities, have had to adapt to the bright lights and loud noises.
But this year, for the first time ever, people who live on the autism spectrum can enjoy the Carnival just like everyone else.
The HLSR hosted its first-ever "Sensory Friendly Carnival Experience" on Thursday. In select areas from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., people with sensory-processing differences could enjoy the Carnival with minimal lights and sounds. More than 40 rides were adapted for kids like Amelia Yacouby.
The 7-year-old girl lives with autism.
"I have sensory issues like all of the other kids here," the second-grader said.
Attending the rodeo is a tradition for her family, but in years past, Amelia could only visit the fairgrounds if she wore noise-canceling headphones and her parents were close enough to apply pressure holds and hugs so Amelia felt safe.
"But without all the music and lights, it’s a little less fun. But the rides are more fun," said Amelia whose parents were less worried this year.
"You’re constantly worried about, is she OK? Is it too loud? Is she nervous? Is she overwhelmed," Amelia's mother Vanessa Yacouby said. "She’s more calm. She wants to explore more. She wants to run out more."
Parents said the sensory-friendly day is a very big deal.
David Brady, Chief Entertainment Officer for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo helped to roll out the change.
"And I think the most important part of it is that everyone who comes here today knows it’s a sensory-friendly event. Our operators of the rides and games know that the kids are coming here because of this," Brady said. "One operator of a ride actually stopped a ride because a kid was crying. Let that mom and son off and then started that ride back up for everyone else."
RodeoHouston estimates about 1,000 people attended Thursday specifically for the sensory-friendly experience. Organizers are already making plans for a bigger sensory-friendly day in 2021.
"So other kids like me can have fun without all the flashing lights and music," Amelia said.