Irving-based Chuck E. Cheese’s is expanding a test designed to tone down the normal sensory bonanza and make the restaurants more appealing to children with autism spectrum disorder and other special needs. 

The program, launched in connection with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, will now run on the first Sunday through May at 54 locations in New England, New York, and New Jersey. 

The kid-themed chain hopes to roll the program out nationally later this year.

“The buzz and feedback we’ve been receiving has been super positive so we’re hoping to offer it nationwide sooner rather than later,” said restaurant spokeswoman Christelle Dupont.

Sensory Sensitive Sundays began as a pilot late last year in Attleboro, MA. A similar program was  launched two years ago in Glen Burnie, MD. It  allows families to visit the restaurants “in a sensory-friendly environment” from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.,which is before normal opening time. 

The children experience smaller crowds, less noise, dimmed lighting, no show or music playing, and limited costumed characters. 

In August, Plano-based J.C. Penney opened its Timber Creek Crossing store in Dallas on a Sunday morning for a private back-to-school shopping event for children with autism and their families. Children with autism spectrum disorder can be highly sensitive to different sounds, smells and lights.

“CARD is honored to play a role in ensuring that children with autism have access to Chuck E. Cheese’s in a comfortable environment,” Doreen Granpeesheh, CARD founder and chief executive said in a statement. “We are excited that Chuck E. Cheese’s is expanding Sensory Sensitive Sundays, so more families will have access to this inclusive option.”

CARD provided a detailed training guide for all  participating stores and employees to study in advance of the first event, held on Sunday.  CARD staff members also were present at 12 of the  participating locations to help as needed and to answer questions and provide resources for families.

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