Originally published in the April 2019 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.
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, which 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 and been supportive; we have self-educated and 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. 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 we do 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 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
It was important to us to give parents and caregivers a lengthy window of time; 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.
About the Author:
Kristen Nieves is Chief Operating Officer at Glazer Children’s Museum and has been with the organization since the days of Kid City. She believes that ALL children deserve to play with purpose and leads the way for the museum’s inclusive and Autism-friendly initiatives.