Roving sensory support teams with backpacks full of fidget toys and earplugs will make their way through next weekend's Twin Cities Pride Festival, and a quiet, cool tent near Loring Pond will offer an "escape space" with stress balls, weighted lap pads and an inflatable hammock.

More Minnesota celebrations — from Pride to the State Fair to local parades — are offering some respite to event-goers with sensory issues. So have a growing number of sports venues, museums and theaters.

The crowds, bright lights, strong smells and loud sounds of parades and fairs can overwhelm those with sensory sensitivities, including people with autism and ADHD.

Having tools and a space where people can regulate their sensory system has allowed more people to enjoy Pride, said Jillian Nelson of the Autism Society of Minnesota.

"Neurodiverse people could celebrate with the rest of our community while still having the support and security needed to participate without having a rough day," Nelson said. "Twin Cities Pride was one of the first, and then we've seen other great festivals follow suit."

Disability advocates previously pushed state lawmakers to mandate that gatherings with crowds larger than 1,000 people offer an accommodation plan with one of several options, such as a sensory-friendly area or designated time period. Nelson said they are considering another attempt to pass the bill in 2025.

Meanwhile, communities are already making changes.

St. Louis Park's Parktacular, Kaposia Days in South St. Paul, West St. Paul Days and other community parades this summer will have quiet zones along their routes. People on floats and vehicles aren't supposed to blare horns, play music or have flashing lights for a block or two.

Some events, including St. Paul's Irish Fair of Minnesota and Tater Daze in Brooklyn Park, will offer spaces for those who need a break. And at various Eagan events, attendees will be able to borrow a sensory bag with fidgets, noise-canceling earmuffs, sunglasses and other tools that can be calming and help reduce sensory input.

A few years ago, the ultimate scene of sensory overload — the State Fair — debuted the Fraser Sensory Building. The space allows people to escape the bustle and take a break, perhaps under a weighted blanket or by listening to calming music. Last year, the fair also offered its first sensory-friendly morning where it minimized noise and lights in the Midway and Kidway.

A wide range of people use the Fraser Sensory Building to get away from all the stimulation, said Gina Brady, sensory supports and training program manager at Fraser, which provides autism, mental health and disability services.

People with dementia, anxiety, ADHD, autism and other diagnoses can have sensory needs, she said, "It really is a larger group that people initially understood."

Accessibility considerations can reduce a common occurrence that Brady called "the split family phenomenon." She said that's what can happen when one parent or caregiver takes some children to an event and another stays home with a child with sensory needs.

"They are not able to go out and have these whole family experiences that so many of the rest of us have without really thinking much more about it," Brady said. "By adding in some of these accommodations, you are opening up the opportunity for more families to have these experiences all together."

Autism and Pride

Next weekend, Minnesotans, many wearing their rainbow finest, will crowd into Loring Park for the Twin Cities Pride Festival. The summer smell of fried fair food will hang in the air. At any moment, a musician, drag queen, circus performer or unicycling unicorn — yes, that's in the lineup — could take one of the many stages.

Amid the commotion, Twin Cities Pride Executive Director Andi Otto said, festivalgoers will find numerous sources of calm, including the escape space tent. To meet growing demand, the tent has doubled in size over the years.

The parade route also will have a sensory-friendly area. And for those who'd rather skip the parade, Otto said a drag show is planned at the same time where the volume will be a little lower, the pace will be a little slower and performers will be "very much aware of the audience" and respectful of space and boundaries.

Ensuring that people on the autism spectrum can enjoy Pride celebrations is important, said Nelson, who said the Autism Society of Minnesota has seen a lot of representation of the LGBTQ+ community at events.

While there's relatively little research on sexuality and autism spectrum disorder, some studies show people with autism are more likely to identify as LGBTQ.

"I've heard that, and I know it's in the back of my head," Otto said. "But if there's even one person, then it's worth it to me."