For far too long, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families have been shut out of so many of the activities in the community that most of us often take for granted. Enjoying a night out at a restaurant, taking a vacation, going to the grocery store, are just a few among the countless activities that families end up avoiding because of the significant challenges they’ve experienced. We understand the feelings of isolation and the many frustrations that these families face, thus we aim to open those doors that have remained closed, unlocking opportunities for the autism community to take part in activities they enjoy. After all, everyone deserves to be accepted, respected, and valued.
For most of us, grocery shopping, traveling on a bus and going to the dentist are just run-of-the-mill routines of everyday life.
When you are thinking of buying a new pair of shoes you easily walk into the shoe shop, pick the ones you like, try them on and decide how they feel and how you feel about them.
For an individual with ASD, buying a new pair of shoes can be excruciating. The challenges can begin with entering through the front door and noticing the smells of the shoes and the environment of the store. Next comes the trial of selecting from among all the styles, requesting the correct size, having someone assist in putting on the shoes and then figuring out subjective opinions about them.
It’s a lot to navigate for someone who doesn’t like change and has difficulty communicating and tolerating a new sensory environment. Imagine how much harder it is for that person to travel on an airplane, or visit a hospital? And what about recreational activities such as going to a movie or enjoying a night out at a restaurant?
AFS stands in awe of the tremendous work being done by the many therapists and service providers who help individuals with ASD venture out into the world. AFS paves the way by preparing the places they will go and the people they will meet to include them in a meaningful way when they arrive. The adjustments need not be huge nor necessarily affect anyone else, but for individuals with ASD, even minor changes can make an enormous difference and make it possible for them to function in that setting.
We do this by anticipating the challenges that may arise from difficulties with language, pragmatics, cognitive flexibility, and self-regulation and taking steps to minimize
them. We recommend sensory adjustments and provide visual supports and other tools to make the environment more predictable, to address challenges with transitions and to assist with social interaction and perspective taking.
We offer venue-specific training that not only increases staff awareness and understanding of autism but also delineates difficulties that may be experienced in that particular setting, explains why they arise and offers ways to overcome them.
When managing events, we provide a team of well-trained consultants and volunteers to staff calming corners and activity areas, troubleshoot and provide support as needed.
Drawing on the interdisciplinary backgrounds and clinical expertise of its founders, AFS translates theory into practice. We work at a practical level, by providing a variety of customized supports and recommended alterations that can make the unimaginable possible. A few small changes can make an enormous difference and that is a step in the right direction.