What is a sensory-friendly wedding?
A sensory-friendly environment is one that “has been changed to be more calming for the senses” (sensoryfriendly.net). Why not make your wedding a sensory-friendly environment?
Weddings can be “a lot.” For folks with sensory needs, some of the typical events and traditions can turn a happy day into a stressful one. The good news is, there are things you can do to make your wedding enjoyable and comfortable for both you and your guests. All without compromising or feeling like you’re missing out.
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Planning a custom, sensory-friendly wedding for you and your partner can be an enjoyable experience. You get to think about all the things you like. And then…do those things (:
I want to say up front that not everything on this list will be helpful to everyone. We’ve all got different wants, needs, and experiences. So take what you need from this article, leave what you don’t, and have a wonderful wedding day that makes you happy. That being said, these are my top tips for planning a sensory-friendly wedding for your and your partner:
I’m a firm believer that the way you start your day matters. It sets the tone for everything else to come. Getting ready at home, where you’re comfortable, is a great way to start your day relaxed. You can also visit your wedding location ahead of time. If you’re traveling for your wedding, get there a day or two early to get familiar with the space where you’ll be getting ready.
Following the familiarization theme, vising your ceremony location a few times will help make your actual ceremony a more “core memory” experience. If you’re already familiar, you won’t be as distracted during the ceremony itself. You may also feel calmer and more at ease.
Earplugs are a fantastic way to dampen some auditory stimuli. I’m personally a fan of earplugs like Loop. They filter the noise but don’t block things out completely, and they look cute. If you have more noise-canceling earplugs or other ear protection that you like, you can totally wear them. You deserve to be comfortable on your wedding day.
I suggest this to every single one of my couples, especially if you’re inviting guests. The ceremony is often a high-emotion point in the day, and afterwards, it’s so nice to take a few minutes alone with your partner to soak it all in and enjoy the moment. I did the exact same thing on my wedding day, and I’m so pleased that I did.
If the weather and location permit, I highly recommend having your celebration outdoors. Outdoor receptions are often less noisy and less chaotic. If you need to be or prefer to be indoors, finding a space plenty large enough for your guest list will help with the overwhelm.
It’s natural for everyone to want a piece of you on your wedding day. If you sit in the middle of a big table, that puts you in the middle of the “action,” so to speak. Some folks are perfectly fine with that, but if you’re prone to overwhelm, you’re 100% allowed to sit at the end of the table instead!
If you’ve come across my site or my work before, you’ll know I’m a strong advocate of full-day elopements rather than just an hour or two. What I mean by “don’t feel like you have to have a full-day party” is more: don’t feel like you have to be “on” all day. If you don’t want to have a 4-hour reception, don’t. If you want to change out of your fancy clothes into something comfier, do it. Do you want to order your favourite meal for dinner instead of sitting down at a restaurant? You totally can!
Whether or not you have sensory needs yourself, your guests can benefit from a sensory-friendly wedding too. Here are some considerations for guests:
Whether paper or digital, your wedding invite is a great place to share some additional info with your guests. Ask an open-ended question about accommodations, let them see the menu in advance, and perhaps implement a low- or no-scent policy. You can also let your guests know that if they need to step away at some point throughout the day, they should feel free to do so.
Ceremonies and dinners can be an exercise in frustration for those of us with difficulty focusing. Quiet fidget toys can be a big help!
Wedding surprises can create a lot of overwhelm, especially loud ones. If you’re planning anything, it’s best to give your guests a heads-up well in advance to avoid any startling situations. That can include loud noises, flashing lights, or anything with a shock factor, really.
If you’re worried about sensory needs and want the type of wedding best suited to managing them, consider an elopement.
Elopements have few or no guests, and with all the extra flexibility comes even more space to do whatever the hell you want. You’re beholden to no one. You really can design the wedding day of your dreams that works for you. And all without feeling restricted or like you’re compromising on anything.
Given that I’m neurospicy myself, I’ve been incorporating all kinds of accommodations into my couples’ elopement experiences in sort of a subconscious way. Over the years it’s been refined into something very conscious. This is what your neurodiverse elopement experience can be:
Booking with me is an easy and low-stress process. Communication your way throughout. You can contact me right here, or you can skip that part and schedule a free “vibe check.” I think it’s important to see if you fit with your photographer before you hire them, so you can talk to me via phone, zoom, or email, whichever you prefer.
Everything will be laid out for you several times, both on the phone and written down in a follow-up email for you to refer to later. We’ll get to know each other a little bit, and once you have a date and a general location picked out (”Washington State” or “Ireland” is specific enough), you’ll receive a digital contract. After the contract is signed, you’ll receive a digital invoice.
Keeping everything online means there are fewer steps to complete.
Once the contract is signed and the retainer is paid, that’s it, you’re booked, and I’m all yours.
There aren’t any deadlines in this process. No high-pressure sales, no last-minute scrambles, nothing that feels bad or forces you into a decision.
As soon as you’re booked, you’ll receive my full “How to Elope” guide, exclusively for my couples. It’s got a lot of info; I send it first thing so you can go through it at your own pace. It’s not a homework assignment or anything you need to read by a certain date. Think of it as a helpful resource for you to refer to whenever you need it.
In the months leading up to your elopement, you’ll be receiving regular communication from me. Nothing overbearing, but I’ll pop into your inbox from time to time so you never have to worry about what’s going on. Every email has a list of “next steps” at the end so you always know what’s coming next.
I’ll help you pick your elopement location(s), and then we’ll build a custom timeline of your day. You’ll know ahead of time how your elopement is going to go, including the backup plans in case of weather. No worries or surprises—unless your partner has something planned for you (:
I’m also very familiar with and able to make varying accommodations for you and your partner. Please don’t hesitate to let me know what you need!
This is where it all comes together. You get to have the relaxed, sensory-friendly day you’ve planned. Your timeline will have space built into it. Space to change direction, take breaks, whatever you fancy in the moment. No rushing around from place to place or “running behind schedule.”
My photography style is largely documentary. I like to ease into things—you won’t have big cameras in your face before we’ve even said hello. Most of my clients book me for 8 hours, but that doesn’t mean 8 constant hours of portraits, of being “on.” I’m there to document your wedding day, not exhaust you.
Before we get into our first portrait portion of the day, we’ll do a calming ritual to center everyone and refocus on the here and now.
…Can I tell you a secret? I was a little hesitant to start including the ritual (even saying “ritual” sounds a bit woo-woo), but it’s made such a big difference in my couples’ experiences. And now I swear by it.
The portraits aren’t the traditional “say cheese” that comes to mind. You’ll spend most of the time not looking at the camera at all, not focusing on me. Because your wedding day isn’t about me, it’s about you! All you have to do is focus on each other and enjoy the experience you’re living.
I’ll take care of the rest (: