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Autism friendly

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Title: Autism friendly  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Autism rights movement, World Autism Awareness Day, The Autism Directory, Autism therapies, Neurodiversity
Collection: Autism, Disability Rights, Health Campaigns, Identity Politics, Medical Activism, Neurodiversity
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Autism friendly

The autism awareness ribbon.

Autism friendly means being aware of social engagement and environmental factors affecting people on the autism spectrum, with modifications to communication methods and physical space to better suit individual's unique and special needs.


  • Overview 1
    • Communication and social interaction 1.1
    • Environment 1.2
      • Social factors 1.2.1
      • Physical space 1.2.2
  • Topics 2
    • Daily life 2.1
      • Vacations 2.1.1
    • Entertainment 2.2
      • Theatre 2.2.1
      • Movie cinema 2.2.2
      • Santa Claus 2.2.3
    • Education 2.3
      • Empathizing-systemizing theory 2.3.1
    • Justice and law 2.4
    • Life events 2.5
    • Technology 2.6
      • Digital talking books 2.6.1
      • Mobile applications 2.6.2
      • Motion-controlled gadgets 2.6.3
      • Social media 2.6.4
      • Types of technology 2.6.5
    • Training for businesses 2.7
    • Recreational facilities 2.8
      • Inclusive recreation 2.8.1
  • Community involvement 3
  • Autism rights movement 4
    • Autistic pride 4.1
  • Gallery 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


"Opening a window to the autistic brain." A child with autism (three years old) pointing to the fish in an aquarium.

Individuals on the autism spectrum take in information from their five senses as do neurotypical people. The difference is they are not able to process it as quickly and can become overwhelmed by the amount of information that they are receiving and withdraw as a coping mechanism.[1] They may experience difficulty in public settings due to inhibited communication, social interaction or flexibility of thought development. Knowing about these differences and how to react effectively helps to create a more inclusive society. It also better suits the needs of the growing number of individuals with autism, Asperger syndrome, or other disorders on the autism spectrum.[2]

Being autism friendly means being understanding and flexible in interpersonal conversation, public programs and public settings. In the end, working together makes our experiences together better for everyone. For example, a person might think that if someone is being rude if they will not look them in the eyes - or doesn't understand cliches like "it's a piece of cake", when in fact there may be a reason for this. Depending upon the individual's level of functioning, a person who hears "it's a piece of cake" may take that literally and not understand that what is really meant is "it will be easy".[2] For someone on the autism spectrum, being in an autism friendly environment means they will be have a manageable degree of sensory stimuli, which will make them calmer, better able to process the sensory stimulation they receive, and better able to relate to others.[3]

Communication and social interaction

Organizations interested in spreading awareness about autism and how to be autism friendly, such as the The Autism Directory, have created training programs for communities to illustrate how people with autism may communicate or interact differently from neurotypical people, or people without autism. There are also suggestions for how to modify one's reaction to improve communication.[2] Some training examples are:[2]

  • When one finds out that someone may not be able to look them in their eyes, one should realize that they are not trying to be rude, and it is uncomfortable for them to do so.
  • A person may have difficulty understanding clichés or expressions and interpret a phrase literally. By speaking directly and factually, like saying "It's easy" as compared to "It's a piece of cake", one is more likely to understand the line.
  • Body language, facial expressions, gestures, and turning away from someone may be cues that are missed by an autistic person. This is another opportunity to be direct and factual, realizing that your body language or social cues may not be picked up.
  • The person may have limited vocabulary or speech perception. Patience is helpful here. Allow time for the person to comprehend what was said. Ask how you can help. If they use sign language or a symbol set to communicate, adapt as you are able.

Other pointers are: avoid making loud sounds; do not surprise them, let them know your plans; limit or avoid vigorous activities; and talk or engage in activities that they care about.[2][4][5]


Some people with autism may be hypersensitive to changes in sight, touch, smell, taste and sound; The sensory stimulus could be very distracting or they could result in pain or anxiety. There are other people who are hyposensitive and may not feel extreme changes in temperature or pain. Each of these has implications for making an autism friendly environment.[6]

Social factors

There are several factors in creating a supportive environment. One of them is adherence to a standard routine and structure. Since change of routine can be quite anxiety producing for many autistic people, a structured, predictable routine makes for calmer and happier transitions during the day. Another important factor is creating a low arousal space. Environments with the least amount of disruption will help autistic people remain calm. It's important to speak in quiet, non-disruptive tones and to use a physical space that has a low level of disruption. Having a positive, empathetic attitude and ensuring consistent habits in work, school and recreational activities also help to minimize anxiety and distress and help an autistic person succeed. This is the SPELL approach which stand for Structure - Positive - Empathy - Low arousal - Links.[4][7] Social stories can be used to communicate ways in which an autistic person can prepare themselves for social interaction.[8]

Physical space

Newport Ty Nant uses modern SMART technology, autism-friendly design features and an autism-specific model of care to allow tenants to have more control over their lives.

There are several ways that the physical space can be designed and organized to be autism friendly. It is important for rooms to be decorated with serenity in mind, like painting the walls with calming colors. Thick carpeting and double-paned glass help to minimize distracting noise. Materials within the rooms may be organized, grouped and labeled with words or symbols to make items easier to locate.[9]


Daily life

Autism friendliness can have a significant impact on an individual's interpersonal life and work life, benefited by consistency across all areas of one's life.[4]


Due to the break of routine with family vacations, many families may avoid taking vacations. Steps can be taken to help make for a successful family vacation. One is sharing information like pictures or internet web pages. There are organizations that will make accommodations, if requested, to better manage uncertainty, crowds, noise disruption. This includes theme parks who allow people with autism to skip long lines and airlines or airports that may allow for a dry-run prior to the trip. Another tip is to prepare prior to the trip so that there is a plan for managing boredom.[5]



In the United States, the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) created a program in 2011 to "make theatre accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum". Called the Autism Theatre Initiative, it's part of their Accessibility Programs, and was done in conjunction with Autism Speaks, Disney and experts who reviewed the performance for areas of modification. Adjustments that have been named for the initiative include: quiet areas in theatre lobby, performance changes that reduced strobe light use and noise, and areas where people can go perform an activity if they leave the theatre. Social stories, which explain what the experience will be like (such as loud noises, needing a break and moving through a crowd), were made available prior to the performance. These performances included Lion King and Mary Poppins.[10][11][12][13][14]

Movie cinema

Going to a movie theater can be an overwhelming experience for someone on the autism spectrum. Crowding as people queue up to buy tickets, loud movie volume, and dark theater lighting can all be sensory overload triggers that keep some autistic people from ever seeing movies at the cinema. Some movie theaters are becoming more autism friendly: The lighting is adjusted so it's not so dark, the volume is reduced and queues are managed to prevent crowding. Odeon Cinemas in London has implemented such "sensory friendly" nights.[15] On September 16, 2012, as one example, the Odeon Cinemas screened Brave, a Disney animated movie, at more than 80 United Kingdom and Ireland cinemas for people desiring a sensory friendly movie going experience.[16]

In the United States there are also "sensory friendly" movie-going experiences to be had through collaboration with the Autism Society of America. Monthly, AMC Theatres (AMC) will provide nights when people on the autism spectrum and their families may experience an autism friendly movie night. The program is also intended for people with other disabilities whose movie going experience will also be improved in such a setting.[17][18]

Santa Claus

In Canada, malls operated by Oxford Properties established a process by which autistic children could visit Santa Claus at the mall without having to contend with crowds.[19] The malls open early to allow entry only to families with autistic children, who have a private visit with Santa Claus. In 2012, the Southcentre Mall in Calgary was the first mall to offer this service.[20] The children are given a booklet explaining the process, and upon arrival at the mall are placed in a waiting area near Santa Claus before their visit "to ensure their comfort".[19]


Providing the best outcomes for a child on the autism spectrum may be difficult, complicated by each child's unique way of managing communication and interaction with others, associated disorders that make each child's situation unique, and emerging understandings of neurodiversity. Teacher effectiveness can be optimized based upon their awareness of the differences along the autism spectrum, acceptance that each child is unique, engagement of the child in social and educational activities and employment of teaching methods that are found to be helpful with people with developmental disability.[21]

Teachers play a key role in the success of a student on the autism spectrum by helping them to understand directions, organize tasks and support their achievements. One example is organizing and grouping materials together for activities in specific ways.[22]

Schools dedicated to being autism friendly, like Pathlight School in Singapore, designed their campus to offer students "dignity" in an autism-friendly environment. There the campus was architecturally designed, landscaped and the interior created with a simple color scheme. All of this helps to avoid triggering sensory overload. There is a low teacher to student ratio, a focus on nurturing, and a comprehensive life-skills training and education program.[23]

Empathizing-systemizing theory

Empathizing-systemizing theory with video technology can be used to present information in an autism friendly way that promotes understanding. For instance, computer applications or DVDs of actors making facial expressions to inform how body language provides clues about how someone might be feeling. Or, in the case of The Transporters, interesting items like trains are used to wear faces, drawing in the viewer into the faces.[24]

Justice and law

Being met with an individual in a dark uniform can be intimidating to a person with autism, particularly when they have been a crime victim or are injured. Police and emergency responders may become frustrated, not knowing a person that they're talking to is autistic. The responders may not be communicating in a way that will create understanding and make the situation less stressful. A program has been launched in Glasgow, Scotland to enter information into a database about autistic people so that responding police and emergency personnel are notified when they will be meeting an autistic person and may then communicate in a way that increases understanding and makes the situation less stressful.[25][26] Autism Alert Cards, for example, are available for autistic people in Scottish Borders and Lothian Scotland so that police and emergency personnel will recognize autistic individuals and respond appropriately. The cards, which encourage autism friendly interaction, have a couple of key points about interacting with people with autism.[26]

Life events

"Neurotypical" people and those on the autism spectrum may have very different ways of communicating their feeling about life events, including:

Just because people may process and communicate their feelings differently, though, doesn't mean it's right or wrong. It is best to be honest and literal to help a person with autism to manage major life events. Providing information, and allowing them time to process it, are other important factors. Lastly, communication tools will also help to process and manage the event.[28]

People on the autism spectrum can help themselves manage situations by being aware of what they're feeling and thinking — and expressing their thoughts to important people in their life. Other tools are being aware of when they need help and asking for it — and thanking people when they've received assistance or a gift.[29]


Educational technological applications for people with autism include:

Digital talking books

Digital talking books are used to assist people with disabilities, commonly people who are blind, and also for people with autism. One such use is for taped church programs.[30]

Mobile applications

  • One of the providers of autism-friendly applications is iPad, which was an interface between the child and the storyteller on a video. By repeating what the narrator says, the children hear themselves tell the story, like Tom the Talking Cat. Reading the stories aloud helps children improve their language and communication skills, as well as improving fine motor skills, social skills and sensory skills.[31]
  • Apple iPod applications can be used by people on the autism spectrum to manage tasks at work. It can manage a checklist of tasks and reminder prompts. This helps a person be more calm and effective and rely less on managers or job coaches to prompt for needed work. Tony Gentry, who led research on the applicatin at Virginia Commonwealth University said: "This is an exciting time for anyone in the fields of education, physical rehabilitation, and vocational support, where we are seeing a long-awaited merging of consumer products and assistive technologies for all."[32]

Motion-controlled gadgets

Social media

Types of technology

  • Emotion Markup Language is a general-purpose emotion annotation and representation language, which should be usable in a large variety of technological contexts where emotions need to be represented. Emotion-oriented computing (or "affective computing") is gaining importance as interactive technological systems become more sophisticated. For people on the autism spectrum, it can be used to make the emotional intent of content explicit. This would enable people with learning disabilities (such as Asperger's Syndrome) to realise the emotional context of the content.

Training for businesses

As the prevalence of autism increases, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that customer-facing organizations have basic tools for communicating with people on the autism spectrum. Wales to identify and commend businesses that are "ASD Aware".[33][34][35]

Recreational facilities

Inclusive recreation

Inclusive recreation, also called Adaptive Recreation

Community involvement

Organizations or programs that promote autism friendly efforts are:

Autism rights movement

Autism rainbow infinity
The rainbow-colored infinity symbol represents the diversity of the autism spectrum as well as the greater neurodiversity movement.

There is some work in the autism community on raising awareness among society, but the very nature of autism could make self-promotion difficult for autistic people.

The autism rights movement encourages autistic people to "embrace their neurodiversity" and encourages society to accept autistics as they are. They advocate giving children more tools to cope with the non-autistic world instead of trying to change them into neurotypicals. They say society should learn to tolerate harmless behaviours such as tics and stims like hand flapping or humming.[37] Autism rights activists say that "tics, like repetitive rocking and violent outbursts" can be managed if others make an effort to understand autistic people, while other autistic traits, "like difficulty with eye contact, with grasping humor or with breaking from routines", wouldn't require corrective efforts if others were more tolerant.[38]

Many people disagree with the aims of the autism rights movement, saying that the movement overstates the gifts associated with autism, which could jeopardize funding for research and treatment.[37] Many parents of autistic children say that the notion of "positive living with autism" has little relevance to them, and that autism rights are for "the high-functioning autistics and Aspies who make up the bulk of the movement".[37] Many parents say that behavioral therapy provides help in caring for children who are sometimes aggressive and that autism exacts a toll on the entire family.[38]

Autistic pride

Autistic pride refers to pride in autism and shifting views of autism from "disease" to "difference". Autistic pride emphasizes the innate potential in all human phenotypic expressions and celebrates the diversity various neurological types express.

Autistic pride asserts that autistic people are not sick; rather, they have a unique set of characteristics that provide them many rewards and challenges, not unlike their non-autistic peers.[39][40][41]


See also


  1. ^ Caldwell, Phoebe and Jane Horwood. (2008). Using Intensive Interaction and Sensory Integration: A Handbook for Those Who Support People With Severe Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. p. 16. ISBN 1843106264.
  2. ^ a b c d e Autism Awareness Presentation. The Autism Directory. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  3. ^ Caldwell, Phoebe and Jane Horwood. (2008). Using Intensive Interaction and Sensory Integration: A Handbook for Those Who Support People With Severe Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 15-17. ISBN 1843106264.
  4. ^ a b c Nguyen, Anh. (2006). Creating an Autism Friendly Environment. National Autistic Society. pp. 5-6. ISBN 1899280944.
  5. ^ a b Six Tips for Traveling with an Autistic Child. Time. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  6. ^ Nguyen, Anh. (2006). Creating an Autism Friendly Environment. National Autistic Society. p. 3. ISBN 1899280944.
  7. ^ SPELL. National Autistic Society, United Kingdom. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  8. ^ Social stories: their uses and benefits. The National Autistic Society. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  9. ^ Nguyen, Anh. (2006). Creating an Autism Friendly Environment. National Autistic Society. p. 7. ISBN 1899280944.
  10. ^ Piepenberg, Erik. (August 31, 2011). "Program Hopes to Make Broadway Friendlier to Those With Autism." The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  11. ^ Autism Theatre Initiative. Theatre Development Fund. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  12. ^ .Loud noises Theatre Development Fund. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  13. ^ Needing a break. Theatre Development Fund. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  14. ^ Moving through crowds. Theatre Development Fund. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  15. ^ Roxby, Philippa and Sophie van Brugen. (August 12, 2011). Autism-friendly film gets people relaxed about cinema. BBC. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  16. ^ Autism Friendly Film Screening of Brave - at over 80 participating cinemas. Dimensions. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  17. ^ Sensory Friendly Films. Autism Society. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  18. ^ In Partnership with the Autism Society, We Bring AMC Sensory Friendly Films to Families Affected by Autism on a Monthly Basis to Select Communities. AMC Entertainment. September 06, 2012.
  19. ^ a b DeMara, Bruce (25 November 2013). "Autistic kids get quiet time with Santa at malls".  
  20. ^ "Canadian malls offer quieter, calmer visits with Santa for kids with autism". CTVNews. 24 November 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-21. 
  21. ^ Carol Gray. Learners on the Autism Spectrum: Preparing Highly Qualified Educators. AAPC Publishing; 1 May 2008 [cited 17 September 2012]. ISBN 978-1-934575-07-9. p. 35–.
  22. ^ Breitenbach, Marlene. (2008). Basic Skills Checklists: Teacher-Friendly Assessment for Students with Autism or Special Needs. Future Horizons. ISBN 1932565752.
  23. ^ A Unified Whole. d+a magazine. Issue 53, 2010.
  24. ^ Eric Hollander; Alex Kolevzon; Joseph T. Coyle. Textbook of Autism Spectrum Disorders. American Psychiatric Pub; 18 October 2010 [cited 17 September 2012]. ISBN 978-1-58562-341-9. p. 45.
  25. ^ Landmark pilot project to 'better protect' Glaswegians with autism. The National Autistic Society. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  26. ^ a b Autism Alert Card launches in Lothian and Borders. The National Austic Society. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  27. ^ Fahrety, Catherine (author) and Gary B. Mesibov, PH.D. (contributor). (2008). Understanding Death and Illness and What They Teach about Life: An Interactive Guide for Individuals with Autism or Asperger's and Their Loved Ones. Future Horizons. pp. viii - xiv, xxvi. ISBN 1932565566.
  28. ^ Fahrety, Catherine (author) and Gary B Mesibov, PH.D. (contributor). (2008). Understanding Death and Illness and What They Teach about Life: An Interactive Guide for Individuals with Autism or Asperger's and Their Loved Ones. Future Horizons. p. xxviii. ISBN 1932565566.
  29. ^ Fahrety, Catherine (author) and Gary B Mesibov, PH.D. (contributor). (2008). Understanding Death and Illness and What They Teach about Life: An Interactive Guide for Individuals with Autism or Asperger's and Their Loved Ones. Future Horizons. p. xxviiii. ISBN 1932565566.
  30. ^ Updated Talking Book Program Benefits Church Members with Disabilities. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  31. ^ "iPad Apps That Help Autistic Children's Development." Huffington Post. November 17, 2011.
  32. ^ Heasley, Susan. iPod May Ease Transition For Those With Autism. Disability Scoop. September 6, 2012. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  33. ^ Supermarket Giant Tesco signs up to WLGA ASD Aware Scheme. Welsh Local Government Association. September 9, 2011. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  34. ^ Aware Certification Scheme.ASD ASD Info Wales. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  35. ^ Introduction to ASD. ASD Info Wales. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  36. ^ Awareness training. The Autism Directory. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  37. ^ a b c Trivedi, Bijal (18 June 2005). "Autistic and proud of it". New Scientist (2504): 36. 
  38. ^ a b Harmon A (2004-12-20). "How about not 'curing' us, some autistics are pleading". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  39. ^ Saner E (2007-08-07). "'It is not a disease, it is a way of life'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  40. ^ Shapiro, Joseph (June 26, 2006). "Autism Movement Seeks Acceptance, Not Cures". NPR. Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  41. ^ Costello, Mary (January–February 2006). "Autistic Pride" (PDF). InTouch (Irish National Teachers' Organisation): 26–7. Archived from the original on 2007-11-20. Retrieved 2007-11-24. 

Further reading

  • Bishop, Beverly (author) and Craig Bishop (Illustrator). (2011). My Friend with Autism: Enhanced Edition with FREE CD of Coloring Pages! Future Horizons. ISBN 193527418X.
  • Beadle-Brown J., Roberts R. and Mills R. (2009). "Person-centred approaches to supporting children and adults with autism spectrum disorders." Tizard Learning Disability Review. 14:(3). pp. 18–26. It is available from the National Autistic Society (NAS) Information Centre, UK
  • Fahrety, Catherine (author) and Gary B. Mesibov, PH.D. (contributor). (2008). Understanding Death and Illness and What They Teach about Life: An Interactive Guide for Individuals with Autism or Asperger's and Their Loved Ones. Future Horizons. ISBN 1932565566.
  • Mills, R. (Winter 1999). "Q & A: SPELL." Communication. pp. 27–28. It is available from the National Autistic Society (NAS) Information Centre, UK.
  • Povey C. (2009). "Commentary on person-centred approaches to supporting children and adults with autism spectrum disorders." Tizard Learning Disability Review. 14:(3). pp. 27–29. It is available from the National Autistic Society (NAS) Information Centre, UK.

External links

Autism Awareness presentation or training material
  • Autism Awareness Training Presentation
  • Introduction to ASD.
  • List of Asperger Traits
  • Asperger: female traits, differences between male and female traits
Other information
  • Autism Friendly Spaces (AFS) - consultants for Theatre Development Fund
  • Book reviews for iPad applications for autism and Aspergers syndrome.
  • Autism Friendly Screening - The Muppets October 2012
  • Autism Tips & Helps in areas of potty training, coping through meltdowns, and sensory issues

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