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An exciting and fast moving effort is under way to create “Autism Friendly” spaces so that children and adults with autism can feel more supported and families can better enjoy visits to the theater, restaurants, and even just going out for ice cream. More businesses are tuning in to ways that they can provide welcoming spaces for individuals with autism: doctors offices, airports, grocery stores, and clothing stores are all finding ways to accommodate sensory needs and provide emotional support for all of their customers.
“For me, the turning point was when a man told me that having autism was like being a fresh water fish in salt water. In that environment, they are disabled. In the right environment, the disability reduces and they not only blossom but can fulfill their potential.”
--Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University
The idea of “Autism Friendly” started when we began thinking differently about disabilities. Rather than focusing solely on how to change an individual to better fit into the environment, we started thinking about how the environment might change to better accommodate individual needs. Being different is not a cause for social exclusion. People with ASD can thrive in a society that welcomes diversity.
For individuals with physical limitations we think nothing today of the curb cuts that provide access for people in wheelchairs and babies in strollers. In a few years, we hope it will become commonplace to have welcoming environments for people with autism. These changes will involve changing physical spaces, but also changing attitudes and mindsets to support behaviors that appear different from the norm.
“Autism Friendly” essentially means:
How You Can Help
Sign up for the Autism Village app. This app was created by a dad whose son has autism. He designed the app to be like a Yelp or TripAdvisor for autism friendly spaces. The app lets you find autism friendly spaces in your community or when you are traveling, and asks you to review places as well. On the app parents rate playgrounds, pizza shops, movie theaters, restaurants, and doctor and dentist offices that are autism friendly.
Reward businesses that are providing autism friendly services and events. Large corporations and small businesses are becoming autism friendly through training and education of their staff and executives. Some particularly noteworthy examples include:
A number of organizations and consultants have sprung up to help businesses learn to become autism friendly.
Start by sharing this post, 5 Ways We Can Make the World More Autism Friendly with people you know. Many people have no idea what being “autism friendly” means. By spreading the word you can help business owners and others become more aware and more willing to modify their environments to help welcome all their potential customers.
Visiting autism friendly places will help make going out easier for families with children with autism, but there are also ways you can ensure the best possible outcome for these visits.
Use sequencing cards that will help your child understand what visiting a venue will be like. Photographic images work the best because they you’re your child a realistic sense of what will happen and what the venue will look like. As you show your child the visual sequencing cards walk them through the order in which events will happen: “First we will take a bus, etc.
We need your help! Please share YOUR ideas. Tell us what sequencing cards you would like to see added to our collection. Where are you going to visit next?
For more on the work of Simon Baron Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University see the recent Cultivating Diversity article in The Lancet.
Organizations like Autism Friendly spaces and smaller programs like Brainsong are wonderful for families, but such services might not be available in your area. Try Googling your state or a nearby city combined with the words “Autism Friendly” for venues in your area.
Read and share the following article about how to create theater performances that are autism friendly in the Scottish Journal of Performance.For further information about the App for autism friendly spaces see: Like Yelp, but for Autism-Friendly Businesses an article in the Atlantic about founder Topher Wurts and his son Kirby.
Leslie Stebbins has more than twenty-five years of experience in higher education with a background in library and information science, instructional design, research, and teaching. She has a Masters in Education from the Technology Innovation & Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Masters in Information Science from Simmons College. For twenty years she created and led information literacy and research skills programs for students and faculty at Brandeis University. Currently she is the Director for Research at Consulting Services for Education (CS4Ed). Her clients both at CS4Ed and as an independent consultant have included Harvard University, the California State University Chancellor's Office, the U.S. Department of Education, Facing History and Ourselves, Tufts University, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. She is the author of numerous articles and four books including Finding Reliable Information Online: Adventures of an Information Sleuth. For more about Leslie visit LeslieStebbins.com.