Are Autism Friendly Events and Venues Right for Your Family?

Here are pros and cons of "autism friendly" experiences.

at the zoo
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What Makes an Event or Venue "Autism Friendly?"

Autism friendly events and programs are all the rage, particularly in major metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.  From zoos to movie theaters, managers are taking the time and making the effort to modify their offerings for people with autism.  Most of the time, these modifications are fairly simple:

  • A special showing, opening, or event at which only families with autistic members are welcome;
  • Lowered sound and lighting to avoid sensory assaults;
  • Fewer rules around issues such as getting up and moving around or making noise

 Other types of modifications may include:

Are Autism Friendly Settings Right for Your Family?

"Autism friendly" certainly is a great change from "we don't serve your kind" -- an experience that many of us have had over the years. But are autism friendly events right for your family? Here are the pros and cons:

Pros

  • When you come to an autism friendly event, the staff is ready and willing to bend the rules to accommodate your autistic child's particular sensory issues or anxieties.
  • Children (and adults) with autism may be better able to enjoy and learn from new experiences when those experiences are toned down a bit or made less competitive.
  • Autism friendly events are created to be as easy as possible for everyone concerned -- meaning that parents and children alike may be less anxious or stressed about getting out into the community.
  • Autism friendly events and programs are natural meeting places for local families with similar issues and concerns. It's a great way to meet other families who may become allies or even friends.
  • For parents and siblings who rarely get out with their autistic child, autism friendly events are a way to be a "normal" family in a "normal" venue.
  • Autism friendly events include only families with autistic members, so parents need not fear that they will be judged or scorned if their child behaves poorly.

Cons

  • Autism friendly events are segregated by nature. That means you and your family are part of a "special" group -- with all that that separation implies.
  • Autism friendly events are relatively rare.  If you limit yourself to autism friendly movies, for example, you're likely to miss out on some terrific films.
  • Autism friendly programs rarely teach the skills required for full scale inclusion.  A child who participates in non-competitive baseball will need a great deal of teaching and coaching if she has any interest at all in a recreational or school team.
  • Autism friendly programs rarely expect a high level of ability from participants. Thus, an autistic person with significant talent may not find opportunities for growth in an autism friendly program.
  • Autism friendly programs can be expensive. While some are subsidized, many come with a much higher price tag than typical programs -- simply because they cost more to create.
  • Autism friendly programs and events can become intensely focused on autism-related issues. If you are hoping for a "normal" day at the zoo or ball park, you may find an autism friendly event is not for you.

As you can see, there are plenty of pros and cons -- and many reasons to choose (or not choose) to take part in an autism friendly event or program.  Many families, therefore, do both -- depending upon the specific types of experience and the specific challenges and strengths of their autistic family member. A person who has no problem with a typical swim lesson might find a super hero movie unbearably loud -- what someone with no issues in the movie theater might need a non-competitive sports experience.  Mix and match is often the best bet.

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