“There are days I would move a mountain to make sure my kids got everything they needed,” Courtney Crider said over the phone as she makes the long drive from Lexington to Prestonsburg after her child’s medical appointment. “It’s the mother instinct: you’ll do whatever needs done so that your child can live the same as others.”
A few years ago, Courtney and her family, originally from Eastern Kentucky, moved back to Floyd County from Louisville. They immediately noticed a lack of awareness on autism and sensory processing disorders in local businesses and at community events.
“In Louisville, you could find businesses that were sensory and autism friendly. Most community events had a sensory friendly hour,” she said.
Courtney, who wasn’t working at the time, told her husband that she was going to make it her mission to spread awareness about how the community can best welcome and serve families of children with special needs. She joined together with hundreds of other moms via the Eastern Kentucky Autism Spectrum Disorder/Sensory Processing Disorder (ASD/SPD) Support Group, a group originally started by moms Kelli Jo Kirk and Courtney Maynard, to volunteer to put on new events or adapt existing events to be more friendly to neurodiverse attendees.
“Now that more and more people are creating those events outside of the group, we have shifted our advocacy to focus on helping create autism and sensory friendly businesses around our communities. We will work with an individual business, help them figure out how they can adapt for a customer that has specific needs, and we will train their staff using an educational program developed by a local occupational therapist.”
Courtney said she started offering this training and support with her husband’s barber shop, Crider Barber Shop. Since then, it has taken off. There are now more than 12 businesses or nonprofits certified in Floyd, Johnson and Martin counties. While their group focuses on ASD/SPD, many of the adaptions work well to better serve all disabilities.
Prestonsburg’s first certified friendly restaurant was the Common Room, a Mountain Association client. Courtney said that they worked with business owner Samantha Stovall to develop a sensory corner with low lighting and activities for kids to go to if it’s too busy or overstimulating, and to think about what a sensory friendly menu would look like as well. They trained their employees on best practices for greeting a family and how to offer helpful things like holding their place in line if they need to step away for a break, simply asking what they can do to support their needs, and more.
Courtney said now the police department and EMS have also done their own training and adaptations. For example, police will have sensory bags on hand if they go into a home and find an individual that might need those activities. The have stickers available that families can put on their cars to let police and others know that they have a rider who might need accommodations. Courtney also credits the City of Prestonsburg and Mayor Les Stapleton for all their support with their projects.
“Any idea we’ve given our mayor, he’s taken it and said ‘what do you need?’ and helped us get it done.”
Their group is currently working with the Kent Rose Foundation to fundraise for an accessible and inclusive playground adjacent to Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Floyd County. They are also helping to establish an inclusive playground in Martin County via Kendyl and Friends Foundation.
In early May of this year, they also worked together with the Kent Rose Foundation to host Kidfolk, a sensory friendly session held before the popular Kinfolk reunion, which is an annual event put on by one of Eastern Kentucky’s biggest bands, Sundy Best. Kidfolk offered low-key activities catered to kids with special needs early in the day when there would be less attendees.
“There would have been a time in my life where I would have avoided an event like that,” Courtney said.
“To be able to share a place as beautiful as Eastern Kentucky with all people: that’s my vision and our group’s vision. More people will want to come visit our area if they find communities that offer these adaptations. We would love to see this be a regional movement.”
To support their vision for a more inclusive Eastern Kentucky, please donate via the Kent Rose Foundation’s Imaginarium Park Fund here. If you are local and need support, please find their Facebook group here.
The Mountain Association is proud to have recently support the Kent Rose Foundation with one-on-one marketing training via our Business Support program. With this training, they produced the above video on the new playground to help the community understand its purpose and to help fundraise for its establishment and maintenance.