When a mother with a child on the autism spectrum had a hard time finding a birthday venue to celebrate her child's second birthday, she decided to create her own space for children with special needs.
Raquel Noriega said that to celebrate her 2-year-old daughter Ava's birthday, she wanted a venue that hosted only one birthday party at a time and that wasn't "too crowded."
"Most venues...had too much stimulation, music going, lights going. It was just chaos, and it's not really good for a child with sensory issues," Noriega, 40, told ABC News, adding that she didn't even celebrate Ava's first birthday because she couldn't find a place.
According to autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks, children with autism often have a hard time "processing sensory information." For many on the spectrum, loud music may sound really loud and fluorescent lights may appear so bright it's excruciating.
Thankfully, Noriega found a venue for her daughter -- Pixie Dust in Bay Shore, New York. And instead of hosting a party, she decided to buy the venue last month to help other children with special needs.
Pixie Dust is able to completely customize its offerings for children on the spectrum. It can accommodate up to 20 children and can adjust lighting, music and the length of play time.
The venue also offers sensory play, which stimulates the five senses -- from playing with colorful scented rice to fiddling with musical instruments. "We really get down and dirty," Noriega added.
The children's play is supervised by a staffer who is a special education teacher and therapist.
"Every child with autism is different," Noriega said, explaining that she recently had hosted a child who "doesn't like noise during sensory play."
"So we sat around in a circle and whispered songs. We didn’t shout them," she continued. "The whispering didn't bother the other kids. But if you don't have those options available, the child will not enjoy the party. They could have a meltdown and then they'd have to leave."
Along with specialized activities, Pixie Dust offers a diverse menu with gluten-free options. Noriega added, "The bakery that we use is a nut-free facility and we can create diary-free cupcakes or cakes."
Noriega said she hopes Pixie Dust can help parents just like her.
"I'm open to do anything to make them have a memorable birthday," she said.