COMMUNITY IMPACT/AWARENESS

Individuals with ASD experience many challenges with communication, social skills and sensory information. With appropriate accommodations these individuals can be successful anywhere. There is a great need for more autism-friendly businesses and workplaces in the community. Parents with children on the spectrum – and individuals with ASD – encounter how difficult public places can be. The overwhelming sounds, sights and disconcerting expectations of how they’re supposed to behave can be discouraging. At the same time, many well-meaning business owners are unfamiliar with how to create an autism-friendly environment for customers or employees on the spectrum.

There are many ways your business can support individuals on the autism spectrum disorder and their families. Individuals on the spectrum like to shop, eat and get haircuts like everyone else. Being different is not a cause for social exclusion. One of the biggest ways to become more autism friendly is to educate yourself and your staff. Provide a quiet area as a place for a person to compose themselves if they are becoming too overwhelmed in the public area. Once a week, hold a ‘sensory-friendly’ shopping hour or morning. Turn the loudspeaker down or off, do not play any background music. Try dimming the lights a bit to create a less stimulating environment. Develop a priority queuing system. With this system, families who are impacted by autism could register with the store and access a special check-out line to reduce waiting. This will also reduce anxiety and sensory overload, allowing the family to have a more successful shopping experience. Educate your staff. Have an autism awareness presentation bi-annually. Increased awareness in your staff helps create a more inclusive environment for your ASD customers. Trained employees are able to spot a situation or possibly prevent one from happening by responding with compassion. People with autism don’t always react in the same way every time they have an episode. Prepare some online visuals – pictures of different areas in your venue – that families could use to create visual supports or social narratives for their family member with ASD. This will help the family and individual prepare for a visit to your establishment and to be more comfortable when they arrive. Whatever, you decide, always remember not to judge. A little understanding can go a long way.

It's also a great idea to recruit, hire and support employees with ASD. Individuals on the spectrum are very much capable of working given the right environment and proper training. They can thrive in a society that welcomes diversity. According to research conducted by The National Autistic Society, individuals with autism tend to be conscientious and are often very committed to their work. The research also found that these workers are punctual, honest and reliable. Levels of absenteeism is often lower among these workers. However, most are unemployed. How awesome would it be for your business to provide those opportunities for them as a show of support for all communities? This not only widens your customer base and increases your revenue, but you will be recognized as a leader in the community. This fosters more rewarding customer relationships and earns more business from the autism community.

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For some autistic children a haircut is really difficult. It's an invasion of personal space; the scratch of hair on their neck or the sensation of scissors and another person touching their hair may be unbearable. They may also struggle with sitting still for any length of time. Not to mention hair salons tend to be fairly buzzy places so there will doubtless be music playing and customers and hairdressers chatting.


Crowds, loud noises and environmental changes. For example: for some autistic children getting a haircut is really difficult. It's an invasion of personal space; the fibers of hair falling on their neck or the sensation of scissors and another person touching their hair may be unbearable. They may also struggle with sitting still for long periods of time. Not to mention hair salons tend to be fairly noisy places filled with music playing and customers and hairdressers chatting. These things can definitely trigger sensory sensitivity in individuals with ASD. A warning and clear instructions will help to assist in the need with sensory overload. Perhaps a visual schedule would be a helpful, too. An overload of the senses can be overwhelming and cause a meltdown. Sounds that are barely noticeable to you may distract a child/adult with autism and keep him from learning. Certain textures may cause children with autism to cringe in disgust. Certain smells may cause him to gag. While sensory issues are extremely prevalent among people on the spectrum, to the point where it's considered a symptom of autism, not everyone on the spectrum has sensory processing disorder.

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