Over the past several years there have been countless efforts to provide more autism-friendly events for our communities to enjoy! Growing up with autism in the early 90’s these events were limited but now are becoming more popular in different locations. An autism-friendly event usually entails having a private area for people with autism to be themselves in a non-judgmental environment while enjoying in an activity. It also can include trying to make the place ‘sensory-friendly’ such as lowering the volume of the music along with turning down bright lights. Other events may have occupational and physical therapists on staff along with a quiet area if a child may feel overwhelmed and need some time to relax.
I’d highly encourage individuals who want to host autism-friendly events in the future to contact me on Facebook on ways they can get started. Here are a few places we’d like to see more autism-friendly events…
AMC Theaters, in partnership with the Autism Society, have hosted sensory-friendly events around the country for children with special needs. Now they have several films occurring each month. (I now speak to theatres on the importance of autism-friendly screenings along with film directors who want to bring a realistic portrayal of autism to the big screen.)
The Theatre Development Fund has hosted several autism-friendly Broadway shows in the past few years. One person who had stood out to me in this process is Lisa Carling, Director of accessibility programs for the Theatre Development Fund and helped with the Autism Theater Initiative. You can learn more about the Autism Theater Initiative in the Q&A I did with Carling here. Local theatres have also become involved, such as Paper-Mill Playhouse with plays such as a Christmas Story and Elf. Sydney Opera House also received praise for their autism-friendly performance of The King and I.
— Autism Speaks (@autismspeaks) December 23, 2015
Having a place where people with autism and their families can dine out can often be a challenging experience due to crowds and specific dietary needs. Autism Eats, which has been featured in the Boston Globe, are helping host events specifically for families with individuals on the autism spectrum. At these dining events, Autism Eats provides private areas where families and their children can connect with one another and share resources to help their community.
Countless sporting teams have hosted sensory-friendly games during their seasons to help those with special needs. Major League Baseball on their autism awareness nights have hosted them along with select teams from the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and NASCAR at Dover International Speedway. Each of these events helps spread awareness while welcoming people with autism to watch the game.
Holiday themed events
When the holidays come malls and other public areas can be crowded and overwhelming for those with special needs. Autism Speaks has partnered with Simon Malls to host Caring Santa events that are sensory-friendly. Recently, with the help of a few local businesses, I was given the awesome opportunity to play Santa for 230 children with autism . All the proceeds raised were donated to the non-profit KFM Making a Difference. KFM Making a Difference raises money to provide scholarships for students with autism pursuing a college education. Events like the Sensory Friendly Santa described above, are amazing for families to participate in and it would be wonderful to continue the tradition to other holidays in the future.
6-8. Museums, Zoos and Aquariums
Temple Grandin has often said that you need to stretch kids with autism to see what they are capable of. Sometimes there’s no better place to do that than in these locations. Museums, zoos and aquariums around the U.S. have gotten involved with sensory-friendly days where children with special needs can come see their attractions in a smaller crowd. You can read a full list of museums that have programs for people with autism here.
Hosting a birthday party at different venues may be challenging for those who have children with autism. There are places such as Pump It Up around the U.S. that host evenings specifically for children with disabilities. Different children’s event venues could always follow in Pump It Up’s footsteps, as well as referring to this great blog from Friendship Circle.
Companies and businesses
Along with bring your child to work day, businesses can host events for their employees to help spread special needs awareness. 90% of adults with autism are currently unemployed or underemployed. Some of these people, with the right supports, can thrive and that’s a fact our world needs to realize. I’ve spoken to J.P Morgan Chase, American Express and Wyndham Worldwide about employment for those with disabilities and would be happy to collaborate with your business too!
When I was growing up 1 in every 1000 children were being diagnosed with autism. Today it’s every 1 in 68 in the U.S. With the numbers of autism constantly rising, having these events out there will make the world that much more inclusive to those with disabilities.