Creating Autism-Friendly Parks and Entertainment
The New York Times posted an article on the Lion King being the first Broadway play to host an Autism-Friendly performance. The idea isn't that shocking, as Disney's The Lion King has a huge appeal to children and families, including those with children on the Spectrum. So catering to the Autism community is one way to build interest in the theatre for those who generally do not participate.
But how do you make something "Autism-Friendly", particularly when those on the Spectrum react to different events in different ways? What makes your event Autism-Friendly? It's something I'm starting to see more and more, and yet it hasn't been defined for me completely. So, in the absence of any clear definition, I've come up with my own:
Distractions need to be set at a minimum. If there are lots of flashing lights or colors, lots of background noise, anything that flickers, then it's not Autism-Friendly. Visual and auditory stimulation are the most common ways to set off a reaction in a child with Autism. When I look for a place, such as a place to eat, I look for low background noise. It's getting harder and harder to find a good family restaurant that doesn't have a lot of background noise, but when I do, it makes one point in being considered an Autism-Friendly restaurant.
The last thing we as parents want to worry about are staff members that judge us for the behavior of our child on the Spectrum. Yes, parents need to take responsibility for their children, but Autism throws an added level of behavior issues into a situation that can frustrate staff members and parents alike. So the staff need to be understanding. A good example would be the experiences I had with my son at SeaWorld in San Diego and Disneyland. At SeaWorld, my son was often on edge, particularly while waiting to get food. It was a terrible experience, and almost eclipsed the enjoyment my son had at all the exhibits. Disneyland, on the other hand, was such a great experience with all the staff members and their willingness to understand that we had little trouble. Staff make a huge difference in Autism-Friendly designations.