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As parents of children with autism, we understand the importance of creating an inclusive environment where our kids can thrive and be respected. However, we cannot achieve this alone. Our community must be educated and trained to better serve the needs of the autism community, starting with our children. With one in every 44 children being diagnosed with autism, millions of children require the support and acceptance of their communities.
What is autism inclusion?
Autism inclusion refers to the efforts to create a society where people with autism are accepted, understood, and supported. It means recognizing that autistic individuals are different, but not less, and celebrating their unique talents and abilities while accommodating their challenges. Children with autism are still just that – children. And all children deserve to enjoy their childhood as much as possible, have fun experiences with their families, and have the opportunity to create fond core memories of childhood.
Autism inclusion can take many forms, such as creating sensory-friendly environments, providing access to therapy services, promoting autism awareness and acceptance, and training employees to interact with autistic customers or colleagues.
Why is autism inclusion important for kids with autism?
Autism inclusion is critical for kids with autism, as it can mean the difference between isolation and integration, between exclusion and participation. Children with autism face many challenges in their daily lives, including communication difficulties, social anxiety, sensory overload, and behavioral issues. Without the proper support and understanding from their surroundings, these challenges can escalate into a spiral of frustration, stress, and exclusion.
By creating an inclusive community that accepts and celebrates the differences of autistic individuals, we can help our children develop self-esteem, confidence, and social skills. We can also provide them opportunities to learn, grow, and contribute to society.
Local Autism-Friendly Organizations
Fortunately, many organizations, businesses, and institutions in New Jersey and Massachusetts are leading the way toward autism inclusion. These organizations have recognized the importance of catering to the needs of the autism community and are taking steps to educate their employees, adapt their services, and create supportive environments for our children. Here are a few examples:
Snip-its, Rockaway, NJ
This children’s salon franchise has implemented autism-friendly measures, such as providing visual supports, noise-canceling headphones, and a quiet waiting area for sensory-sensitive kids. Snip-its has joined forces with Autism Speaks® to provide special training to their stylists to best accommodate the needs of children with autism. In addition, their Haircut Guide contains valuable advice and guidelines to ensure your child feels at ease. They welcome a pre-visit with your little one, so they can become familiarized with the salon and the team of stylists.
Sesame Place, Langhorne, PA
Take a quick trip down the road to Sesame Place—a mere 30 minutes west of Trenton, NJ—and you’ll discover the nation’s first autism-certified theme park. Every one of their staff members has been trained in topics from sensory awareness to motor skills, social skills, and environmental awareness. They also offer specialized dining options, quiet rooms, low-sensory areas, low-sensory parade viewing, a ride accessibility program, and even a sensory guide rating each of the rides from 1-10. It’s an incredible opportunity for New Jersey residents to take a brief trip for a world of fun and learning.
Paper Mill Playhouse
Paper Mill Playhouse offers Autism-Friendly performances specifically designed and planned in partnership with the Paper Mill Autism Advisory Team. Families with children with autism or other developmental disabilities will find a comfortable and non-judgmental environment created to make them feel welcome. An experience that’s tailored to their needs and to be enjoyed together.
Chuck E. Cheese
Chuck E. Cheese has gone above and beyond for families with children on the autism spectrum, and many parents of autistic kids will already be familiar with the entertainment center’s dedication. Through its partnership with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, the restaurant and arcade chain has created special sensory-friendly events, such as lowering the music volume and dimming the lights, to make the experience more comfortable and enjoyable for autistic children.
Dentistry for Children
This pediatric dentistry practice has created a program called “Autism Friendly Smiles,” which trains its staff to provide gentle and positive dental care for children with autism and other special needs.
We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym
The We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym creates a secure, caring, and enjoyable setting that promotes education, discovery, and protected sensory encounters. Through their non-profit organization, the My Brother Rocks The Spectrum Foundation, they offer social skills classes, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and events for children with diverse needs. They are dedicated to fulfilling their purpose of providing a sanctuary for children – “Finally a place where you never have to say “I’m sorry! ®”
Target has made significant strides in providing a comfortable shopping experience for customers with autism. They have organized sensory-friendly shopping events, supplied noise-reducing headphones, and created a peaceful area for those in need. Additionally, their staff has been educated to better comprehend and communicate with autistic customers. Plus, their Cat & Jack collection for kids now features sensory-friendly garments featuring flat seams, simple designs, and heat-transferred labels instead of tags.
If you weren’t already in love with Target, here’s something to make your heart swell even more. They are phasing in a special shopping time for kids on the autism spectrum and their families, designed to be a calm, distraction-free experience! Lights will be dimmed, music will be turned off, and there will be less staff on the floor, creating a tranquil atmosphere for these families.
Friendly’s, a chain of family-friendly restaurants in Massachusetts, has been recognized for its autism-friendly accommodations. For example, the restaurant offers a special menu for those with dietary restrictions. In addition, it has staff trained to interact with and serve autistic customers. They also have a sensory-friendly environment with dimmer lighting and less noise.
Parents may experience the sensation of being “under the microscope” when their kids display certain behaviors, shout out or can’t remain seated. Other customers may be put out, and the wait staff, who may have the best intentions, might not know how to assist. Autism Eats takes the stress out of eating out, with special dinner parties held in private rooms of restaurants or function facilities. A buffet- or family-style spread awaits, with music and lighting adjusted for those with sensory sensitivities. Here, everyone is amongst peers and loved ones who understand the same joys and challenges – no need to apologize or explain, just come, relax, and enjoy the evening!
At AMC Theatres, families with loved ones who have autism can enjoy a safe and welcoming experience at their “Sensory Friendly Films” events. Featuring dimmed lights, reduced volume, and minimal previews and ads, these events offer a comfortable and stress-free movie-viewing experience. For added convenience, you are even allowed to bring your own snacks!
Enjoy treasured moments with your children
By educating ourselves and others about autism acceptance and inclusion, we can create a world where our children can reach their full potential and live happy and fulfilling lives. We hope this article has inspired you to seek out and support autism-friendly organizations in your area. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of our children and our community.
A child with autism becomes an adult with autism who has the same needs and wants as any other person. The biggest difference in the outcome for your child in their adult years will rely upon the help they received when they were younger. At Circle Care Services, our qualified staff helps make living with a child with autism much easier by teaching your child and supporting you as their parent or caregiver. Get in touch so we can help you and your family live in harmony with autism.