Calmer-Con sci-fi, comic book convention coming to Thrasher-Horne Center

Program specializes in entertaining visitors with sensory-related needs

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 5/12/21

ORANGE PARK – Calmer-Con is coming to the Thrasher-Horne Center and it’s designed to prevent the overstimulation common at other comic-centric cons.

It’ll on Sunday, May 16, for one day only …

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Calmer-Con sci-fi, comic book convention coming to Thrasher-Horne Center

Program specializes in entertaining visitors with sensory-related needs

Posted

ORANGE PARK – Calmer-Con is coming to the Thrasher-Horne Center and it’s designed to prevent the overstimulation common at other comic-centric cons.

It’ll on Sunday, May 16, for one day only and it will be split into two sessions, so as not to overcrowd the center, which is one way the con removes the threat of overstimulation seen in other comic-con halls where people are packed like sardines moving from vendor to vendor. The first session will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the second will be from 2-6 p.m. Tickets are $20, but with the code CALM5, you can get $5 off of each ticket.

“It’s our five-year anniversary and that’s how we’re celebrating,” Calm Passion, the nonprofit behind the event, director Adam Wilson said.

Wilson created Calm Passion five years ago with the intent to create a comic-con experience for those with sensory needs. His son, Logan, has autism and after the two attempted to go to a standard comic-con, Logan was overwhelmed and overstimulated. His experience isn’t unusual for those with Autism or other sensory-related needs. Wilson said even otherwise neurotypical people can have reactions to large crowds, loud noises, bright lights and more.

Logan had, and still does have, a love for pop culture and had been watching videos of comic-cons with the intent to go one day. When that day finally came, he found himself overstimulated, so Wilson created a nonprofit organization with the goal of creating a comic-con wouldn’t overstimulate his son.

“We didn’t know it was called ‘Calmer-Con’ yet, but I knew I wanted to create family-friendly sensory events,” Wilson said. “I wanted my son to be able to enjoy something like this. I wanted to create a place with comic books, superheroes and cosplay that my son could go to without massive crowds and loud noises and bright lights.”

Calmer-Con has been designed to prevent all of the things that might overstimulate someone with autism. The lights can be controlled and they aren’t nearly as bright-white as you’d find in a standard convention hall. The crowds are controlled so as to prevent overcrowding, and noise levels are kept lower.

The first Calmer-Con was in Massachusetts where Wilson and his son live. But this year, it’s also at Clay County.

“I have some friends that live here and one of them helped me run some cons up here,” Wilson said. “He has a son with autism and he said there was a need in the area...and here we are.”

The first Calmer-Con took place in 2018, two years after Calm Passions was created, and Wilson said it was an immediate hit. He expected 100 people to show up, but 400 people attended, and the conventions only got more popular. The con adjusts each year to meet that growing popularity to ensure it’s still a safe space for people with sensory needs.

“It was really gratifying to see the kids having fun, of course, but to see the parents smiling and enjoying the event alongside their kids, that was awesome to see,” Wilson said. “You know, usually when a kid develops a love of superheroes and sci-fi and the like, it comes from their parents and there aren’t many events where the parents and their kids can enjoy this love of pop culture together without having to worry about overstimulation.

“It’s a rare opportunity to enjoy the same thing at the same time, and safely, too.”

To keep the event friendly to people like Wilson’s son, Logan, the major activities are separated into different rooms so that Calmer-Con showrunners have better control over the volume and size.

“Other than that, it’s a normal comic-con,” Wilson said. “That was important to me. I didn’t want to compromise on the promise of a “comic-con.” There are cosplayers, vendor tables, and all of that still.”

One thing unique to Calmer-Con is the support services and organizations present at the event. Wilson said Calm Passions brings in local Autism organizations and other support groups to be there to help and to talk to parents about their services. There also will be plenty of local comic book vendors, artists and more at the event, too.

“Everyone is so on board with being involved,” Wilson said. “Everyone I speak to is so excited to help out with this and be a part of it. You know, autism is so much more common now, or at least more commonly diagnosed, and just about everybody has had their life touched by autism in some way. Our people love getting to help these kids enjoy something they might not get to otherwise.”

Beyond the typical things you’d find at a comic-con, there will be a room for LEGO building, a room just for art and other separated things like that, all with the goal of stopping the event from becoming overstimulating. There is also Jedi Training and Superhero Training, too, which is a great way to get the children even more involved, Wilson said.

“Everyone that’s worked with me is so proud of what we’ve accomplished over the year,” Wilson said. “We lost half a year of it because of COVID, but we’re excited to be back.”

Wilson said Calmer-Con is already COVID-19 friendly when it comes to social distancing because social distancing is a part of stopping the event from becoming overcrowded. They also disinfect everything in the con often to help ensure further safety.

“My son is 18 years old now, and as he gets older and older, he’s been getting more involved,” Wilson said. “It’s really a family affair for me and my wife and my son. For it to have come full circle where he’s now on the other side, helping us put this thing on, it means a lot.”

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