Local Families with Autism Attend First Ever Inclusive Polar Express Train Ride



This holiday season, the Autism Society of Greater Akron (ASGA) and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR) embarked on their inaugural run of an autism friendly Polar Express Train Ride for Akron area families. On the evening of Wednesday, November 28th and morning of Saturday, December 8th, children with special needs and their families boarded the Polar Express in their pajamas, and were greeted by special elves who were ready to give plenty of holiday cheer.

“Having a separate train car specifically prepared for our families made a huge difference,” said Laurie Cramer, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron. “We had the ability to not only turn off the lights and sound, but to adapt the program to meet the needs of the families, creating a safe environment for all. Our train also had sleeper cars, which made fantastic quiet rooms when someone needed to take a break. It was exciting to offer families living with autism the same holiday experience as other families. Many commented they couldn’t have done it without the adaptions.”

Program adaptions included a tool kit each family received with crafts and activities to keep everyone busy and engaged, along with the traditional hot chocolate, cookies and Polar Express storybook reading. The children, ranging in many different ages and abilities, also had the opportunity to visit with Santa after seeing the North Pole. On the way back, a showing of the Polar Express movie was offered as well.

Sara Miley of Smithville, said, “We truly cannot thank everyone involved in organizing this enough. What a magical night! My son Max was living his best life the entire time!”

In addition to the autism friendly accommodations, financial support was made possible through a sponsorship with Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital and a grant from the Hussman Foundation, making ticket prices more affordable for the families.

“I speak for the families who attended this event when I say we couldn’t be more grateful to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital and Hussman Foundation for helping us bring this holiday experience to our families,” added Laurie Cramer.

The Inclusive Polar Express Train Ride was part of the Autism Society of Greater Akron’s Autism Friendly Communities initiative, which provides essential training to local organizations on how to accommodate people living with autism. In 2017, Summit County was the first in Ohio to be declared “Autism Friendly” by Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro. In 2018, ASGA declared Summit Metro Parks “Autism Friendly” as the first organization to complete an instructional training program with their employees.

ASGA plans to continue their partnership with the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, and offer the same event during the 2019 holiday season.

Additional photos from the event are available on the Autism Society of Greater Akron’s Flickr page at https://bit.ly/2QrZaPz.


Pictured: Max Miley (11) of Smithville with Santa Claus