In the autism community, we have a saying: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” It’s called Autism Spectrum Disorder because it is just that, a spectrum of a wide variety of characteristics and differences. With the prevalence of autism diagnosis rates, chances are that you are connected to someone with autism.
In April, we celebrate Autism Awareness Month so it is a great time to teach kids about inclusion. Invisible disabilities are always harder to explain to children, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. Awareness is a powerful gift and the more our children know, the more the stigma around disabilities are reduced.
Although no kid comes with a manual, I believe parents and caregivers of children and adults with autism are a very special breed. We have needed support, we have been supportive, we have self-educated, we have advocated, and we have our own language with those we love; which is not always verbal.
All children deserve to have experiences and resources that will support, enrich, and grow them. Tampa Bay is making great strides in accessibility and inclusivity for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to make sure that all its residents feel included. Sensory friendly park equipment, specially trained members of law enforcement, Autism Friendly Business initiatives and cultural attractions with sensory-friendly events are becoming more readily available to those who need it.
At Glazer Children’s Museum, inclusion for those on the autism spectrum is a core value. We employ staff members with autism, we have members of the leadership team who have children on the spectrum, and we hold sensory friendly events geared towards those with autism. We partner the Center for Autism & Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida to evaluate all our new exhibits and to train our staff. These are just a few small examples of what augments we make, very purposefully, so that children with autism can have a successful experience here.
Sunshine Sunday is a special event at the Museum designed as a sensory-friendly engagement. We turn down lights and sounds, offer adapted programming, and bring in community resource partners for children with autism and their families. Even if it isn’t successful the first time you try Sunshine Sunday, there will be caregivers around you who get it and will not judge you or your child for having that meltdown or stimming loudly. It is a safe space and our loved ones sometimes need that. Glazer Children’s Museum is honored to provide it.
Glazer Children’s Museum believes so strongly in the need for Sunshine Sunday that we are proud to announce that we will now be offering this experience monthly; the last Sunday of every month from 10am-1pm. It was important to us to give parents and caregivers a lengthy window of time, because as you know, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism and their needs are all a bit different.
By Kristen Nieves, Glazer Children’s Museum
Originally published in the April 2019 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine. Pick up your free copy in the museum lobby!