MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In just a few days, the Twin Cities will host the largest free Pride festival in the country.

But the size of the event is a problem for some people who are on the autism spectrum. All the noise and activity can lead to anxiety.

Hundreds of thousands each year come out and enjoy the sights and sounds of Twin Cities Pride. Others like Jillian Nelson, who is on the autism spectrum, stay home.

“It’s something I had heard from a lot of my peers in the autism community that are also LGBT,” Nelson said. “That, you know, it’s just not something we can do because it’s too much to handle.”

So she’s skipped out for seven years. A few months ago, she let the organizers know.

Dot Belstler is the executive director of Twin Cities Pride.

“We heard loud and clear that people on the autism spectrum don’t have a place at Pride,” Belstler said. “They come to Pride and there’s no place to calm, or just to be.”

This year, there will be — right in the center of Loring Park.

“We’ve added a calming tent called the ‘Escape Space’ that’s hosted by the Minnesota Autism Society,” Belstler said.

The escape space will have yoga balls as chairs and there will be ear plugs, air conditioning and plenty of fidgets.

“They are things that provide some sort of sensory relief by stimulating other senses,” Nelson said.

The escape room will provide rest for the senses, from the music, the crowds, the heat and the noise. Belstler says it makes sense.

“Of course we will do whatever we can to make people feel welcome at Pride,” she said. “That’s what we’re all about, is creating a space for everybody to come together.”

Nelson and her partner will be there Saturday, included at last.

“I am so excited, I’m phenomenally excited,” she said.

The tent is not only for adults on the spectrum, but also children or adults dealing with other challenges like anxiety. It will be in the center of the Loring Park festival, right by the garden.


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