The Framingham-based Autism Alliance, a program of Advocates, announced “exciting progress” to its Autism Welcoming Community Initiative.
The initiative seeks to create a socially inclusive MetroWest community for those with autism and their families, according to Allison Daigle, executive co-director of the Autism Alliance.Progress has been made in two programs -- Sensitivity Responsiveness for Community Businesses and the Caregiver Corps.
The first program partners with local businesses and provides training to employees and staff, helping them understand autism spectrum disorder so they can better accommodate the unique challenges those with autism face, Daigle explained
“We have trained 16 businesses and engaged with dozens of others,” she told the Daily News in an email. “We have several trainings scheduled over the next few months.
“Above all, to become an Autism Welcoming Business you have to be ‘welcoming’ to and understanding of people with autism that visit your business,” she added.
APEX Entertainment in Marlborough recently announced in a press release as having completed its training.
The family entertainment center has implemented several accommodating changes, including “sensory friendly hours,” with no flashing or strobing lights and no loud music, as well as a “quiet room” that provides a calm environment, the press release stated.
Other autism welcoming businesses include Barnes & Noble in Framingham, the New England Aquarium in Boston, Burton’s Grill & Bar in Framingham and Shrewsbury, and the Discovery Museum in Acton, according to Daigle.
In addition to training, partnered businesses receive “customized visual supports” and “autism welcoming kits,” Daigle said. Kits include a visual card with icons that aid in the communication of basic requests, such as “too loud” or “I want.”
Businesses also utilize “autism welcoming accommodations cards” that detail the special accommodations they have made available for visitors with autism and their families or caregivers, she added.
“We have been incredibly impressed with the kind of support and understanding these businesses have for people with autism,” Daigle said. “Many of these businesses also employ people with autism and are inclusive throughout their business model.”
The initiative’s second program - the Caregiver Corps - seeks to provide respite to family caregivers of those with autism by connecting them with trained respite workers, according to Pamela McKillop, executive co-director of the Autism Alliance.
The Caregiver Corps is comprised of students recruited from local high schools and colleges who “have an interest in working with people with autism,” she said in an email.
“Many of them have relatives on the spectrum or have relationships with peers,” she added. “Many of them are also thinking of working in the field upon graduation.”
Recruited students receive training through programs such as “Autism 101” and “How to Be a Respite Worker,” which are held at their schools, McKillop said. Ninety-seven students have been trained to join the Caregiver Corps.
Families are invited to register for “Meet and Greets” where they can get to know student caregivers and develop relationships, McKillop said. Registration can be made through the Autism Alliance’s monthly electronic newsletter.
“If they decide to continue the relationship, the families will then take the time to train the students on the unique needs of their particular child,” McKillop added.
The Caregiver Corps’ next Meet and Greet is scheduled for March 1.
The Autism Alliance is a program of Advocates offering events, support and resources for individuals with autism and their families. The Autism Alliance is made up of more than 2,000 families and more than 200 specialists in the field – a community of people sharing information and experiences, and offering support in a variety of ways.