Chances are you’re aware that April is Autism Awareness month. Whilst it’s easy to post stats and share information resources, here at Bury Business Group we wanted to stop and think about what raising awareness really means.
So, we asked Lu, who is one of our members to give us her opinion, as her son was diagnosed with ASD over 18 months ago. We asked her what she thought businesses could do to be more autism friendly.
Here’s what she had to say:
“I know you said you didn’t want stats, but according to the National Autistic Society, 70% of families living with autism feel socially isolated. Equally, 50% of autistic individuals and/or their families sometimes don’t go out because they’re worried about how other people will react to their autism.
That’s definitely something I can relate to. There are certain events and situations we feel we have to avoid because either we know our son won’t be able to cope, or we’re worried about other people.
Just before he got his diagnosis we went to the Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival and, with absolutely no offence meant to the organisers or those taking part, it was one of the most soul-destroying experiences of our lives. There were far too many people, too much noise, and it was sensory overload for him.
Now, in that situation there is nothing anyone could do – it is something we will have to avoid, as we know we can’t manage it. It’s the same with Christmas markets, carnivals, parades and firework displays. We accept that; however, there are some situations and certainly some businesses that could do more for the wider ASD community, to make things slightly more tolerable.
If you are in charge of a venue or specific event, make sure you provide access to all necessary information in advance. This can include photographs so individuals can get a feel for the place before they even step foot inside. Perhaps provide autism families/individuals with access to the event before everyone else enters so they can familiarise themselves with the surroundings before it gets chaotic.
Provide training for staff members so they have a better understanding of autism, and what additional needs and support their autistic customers may require. Nobody is the same, but simply being aware that a child covering their ears in a busy restaurant may need the music to be turned down is a huge help.
Putting up signs in public toilets reminding people that hand driers can be over-stimulating for those with ASD and sensory processing disorders. If faced with a fellow patron who appears to be struggling, respectfully ask that they revert to using paper towels instead.
It’s these little things that actually make the biggest difference when it comes to raising awareness and building acceptance within our communities. We know there are lots of things that can’t change – but some things can, and it’s these things we need to be discussing and making people aware of.
For more information, check out the National Autistic Society’s website. They offer Autism Friendly Awards for businesses who go above and beyond to raise awareness and support their customers.