One in 110 children is on the autism spectrum, and problems can extend well into adulthood. “Autism” has become a household word not only because of its prevalence, but because of efforts to build awareness. Such efforts have been instrumental in calling attention to the need for more research and resources, and in ending the stigma that the disorder carries.
However, families touched by autism can sometimes still feel as if they aren’t fully a part of their community. Some of those feelings of exclusion can stem from the simple fact that it’s hard (and sometimes impossible) to participate in activities most families take for granted. Adults and children with autism can find it hard to do simple things like going out for dinner, taking in a basketball game, or attending a community event; in many cases, families weigh the potential fun against the chance of a mishap or meltdown and decide it’s just not worth it.
Thankfully, there’s an evolving movement for businesses to put on events—or change current ones—that take the needs of people on the autism spectrum into account. These businesses create great experiences for people with ASDs; theaters offer showings of movies and plays with muted special effects, sounds and lighting, in addition to “quiet rooms” for kids and adults who get overstimulated. Some theaters even go so far as to have “autism only” showings, where families can enjoy a movie without the fear of embarrassment or ridicule.
Theme parks also offer back door access for families of adults and children with autism, although these services aren’t heavily advertised. If you ask and are willing to show proof of your family member’s autism diagnosis, parks such as Disney World will offer a pass that allows you and your child to skip the long lines and noisy crowds associated with some attractions.
Restaurants are also becoming more autism aware. Many with ASDs have food allergies or intolerances, or are on special diets, and these autism-friendly eateries offer dishes and entire menus which are free of casein, gluten and other problem additives. If you’re trying a restaurant for the first time, call ahead and ask if they can make special accommodations for your family member.
You might not expect an auto race to be autism-friendly, but even NASCAR is getting into the act. Autism Speaks has partnered with NASCAR, Dover International Speedway and other sponsors to create the sanctioning body’s first ASD-friendly race experience. At the FedEx 400, families touched by autism are able to participate in the “Day at the Races”, which offers presentations on the latest services and research. While the race is going on, families can take advantage of the designated “quiet zone” in the grandstands; parents finally have a sensory-appropriate place to take their kids away from the noise and the crowds.
Not every business can make such great accommodations for families with autism, but it’s very important that theaters, theme parks, and other organizations do try. Becoming autism-friendly isn’t just “doing a good deed”, it’s a way to boost business. Like everyone else, a family impacted by autism votes with its wallet by spending their limited entertainment budget where they’ll get the best value. Holding ASD-friendly events exhibits good business sense, and it helps to build a more inclusive community for everyone.
Article written by A. Elliott; a writer with an interest in autism awareness, she occasionally writes for Voyage Care, specialists in autism care and brain injury rehabilitation. To learn more about them and what they do, visit their website VoyageCare.com.