Parents of autistic children in Pennsylvania have a new resource — www.autismresources.com — to find autism-friendly businesses. Adults on the spectrum, families living with autism, teachers and others can contribute. Listings include businesses willing to make reasonable accommodations to provide service or employ people autism. Here’s hoping this site grows and is copied by every state!
Families living with autism often find staying home hard enough. Going out for a meal, movie, dental appointment or eye exam while dealing with autism can feel like being in a nightmare, if businesses are unfriendly and insensitive to needs.
Nightmares, and outings gone bad, share themes of panic, embarrassment or public humiliation. In a nightmare, we try repeatedly to bolt, to cry out for help, and try as we might, we cannot solve the problem. If a child becomes upset in public during a pleasant outing, the wrong reaction from others can escalate the upset, and feel similarly upsetting to family members.
Being overwhelmed by extreme noise or lighting, being intimidated by a waiter’s stare, or having a church usher roll his eyes and loudly state “SOME parents have to learn to control their children” create all kinds of negative feelings. The fight-or-flight response sets in for parent, child, and siblings. Families often avoid everyday public activities and celebrations for years, not so much because of autism, but because of other’s hurtful reactions to a disability.
This letter from a parent was recently sent to the Erie Times News: “I joined a gym in Erie several months ago. They offer swim lessons for kids so I signed my children up. Today was the first day of their class. At the end of the half-hour the instructor looked at me and said: ‘This is not going to work for him,’ talking about my 5-year-old who has autism. She said, ‘I don’t have time for one-on-one with him, he needs to be in a class with children who have disabilities. I will refund your money.’”
Unfortunately, there is no way to refund the peace of mind and trust damaged by rejection and misunderstanding. But there is a way to avoid some of these problems.
Now families can know ahead of time that a movie theater, barber or diner truly understands their special needs at www.autismresources.com. This is a new, free service helping Pennsylvanians find the nearest autism-friendly businesses.