How the Autism Welcoming Initiative is helping families create memorable experiences in the community
For families of loved ones with autism, getting out in the community often comes with challenges and fear of judgement. Through the Autism Welcoming Initiative, Advocates and the Autism Alliance are partnering with local businesses to create a welcoming and accessible community in the MetroWest area and beyond.
“An autism welcoming community allows individuals with autism and their families the opportunity to enhance their quality of life,” said Allison Daigle and Pam McKillop, executive co-directors of the Autism Alliance.
To support businesses in becoming Autism Welcoming, the Autism Alliance provides training and education to increase their understanding of autism. Autism Welcoming businesses educate staff and make simple, but impactful accommodations to their location such as offering dedicated hours, sensory kits, quiet rooms, and more.
For Brian and Meredith Lively, whose 10-year-old son Joey has autism, the offerings are making it easier for their family to have new experiences in the community. “It can be hard for parents of kids with autism to get them out of the house,” said Brian. “Events held by the Autism Welcoming businesses help us try new things. It’s helpful knowing there are others there that can relate.”
The Lively family visits many Autism Welcoming Businesses on a regular basis, with Apex Entertainment being a favorite. They encourage other families to take advantage of the opportunities, which have helped them make connections and find new activities to enjoy, adding, “There’s not much we don’t do now.”
The Autism Welcoming Initiative began in 2019 through a grant from the Becker Family Trust, managed by the Arc of Massachusetts. Since then, the list of business partners has grown more diverse, ranging from restaurants and recreation centers to an afterschool program and the emergency department at Milford Regional Medical Center. More than 20 businesses are now Autism Welcoming certified. “Even throughout the incredible challenges of the pandemic, our partners continue to show high commitment and enthusiasm,” Allison and Pam shared. With a recent grant from the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, the Autism Welcoming Initiative continues to expand, with upcoming partnerships including the Boston Sports Museum.
In 2021, the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce recognized the Autism Alliance as their Non-Profit Partner of the Year for their contributions and commitment to making the MetroWest region more inclusive.
Allison and Pam look forward to growing the Autism Welcoming Initiative in 2022, saying, “We are grateful that many businesses continue to come forward to learn more about people with autism and how they can help create an accepting and accessible community.”
To learn more about the Autism Welcoming Initiative visit www.AutismAlliance.org/AutismWelcoming.