No one should be hesitant to take his or her kids to a restaurant or museum. But when you’re the parent of a child living with autism, you have to be mindful of the sensory triggers that may turn a fun outing into a stressful episode for the littlest in your family.
Thankfully, there are resources and organizations created to make this easier. KultureCity in Birmingham, Alabama is a nonprofit agency dedicated to creating community awareness through autism resources, helping autistic individuals live full lives and enabling businesses to design environments that are welcoming to everyone—including those with overstimulated sensory perceptions.
Two Organizations Meet on a Mission
Founded in 2013, this startup was a recipient of the Tom’s of Maine 2015 50 States for Good community-giving program award. Tom’s of Maine distributed more than $1 million in total funding to nonprofit agencies that give back to their communities and make the world a better place. KultureCity was awarded $20,000 to fund its Sensory Friendly Initiative Program.
The organization’s founder, Dr. Julian Maha, says the recognition has been a true honor and has helped elevate awareness for KultureCity and its mission to create communities where relating to autistic children and their families is second nature. The funds will be used to help tourist attractions, community organizations, and restaurants become sensory-friendly.
“As you might already know, autistic children often find certain spaces overwhelming from a sensory perspective. These spaces can be overwhelming from a noise, smell, light, or even an overcrowding level,” says Dr. Maha. “Because of this, families of autistic children often stay at home and become disengaged from the community as they don’t want to put their children into environments that are not only painful, but also overwhelming. The sensory initiative was born out of that.”
Making Places a Little More Comfortable
Some ways a location can be made more enjoyable for autistic patrons include offering noise-canceling headphones to dull background noise or replacing loud overhead music with more soothing tones or genres. When it comes to distracting lighting, it helps for establishments that are usually dim—like restaurants and movie theaters—to provide soft but fuller lighting in certain areas, or project a serene light show onto the ceiling. Just as well, businesses and events can restrict the number of people allowed in a given space to avoid crowding. Sometimes there’s a designated quiet room where an autistic child and the family can go to decompress if he or she becomes overstimulated.
Making the World a Little Better
Thanks to the Sensory Friendly Initiative Program, the zoo, children’s museum, botanical gardens, and a handful of restaurants in Birmingham are now sensory-friendly. “The funds will help us continue this program and hopefully make Birmingham, Alabama the first sensory-friendly city in the United States,” adds Dr. Maha.
Over the last five years, KultureCity has made an impact on more than 15,000 children across the country through multiple autism resources and programs. Those include free outings and events thanks to heart:KULTURE, complimentary sensory-friendly toys that inspire learning and joy via Toys AUcross America, gifting tablets to autistic individuals with limited verbal skills as part of tablet:KULTURE, and the safety-focused LifeBOKS initiative that helps to prevent wandering and related accidents.
Image source: KultureCity
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.