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''We Are an Autism Friendly Company!''

Are you an Autism Friendly company? If you have completed the free, honors-system process, post your company information as a response to this post! Customers are looking for you!

Autism Friendly (AF) is a free new program to accomplish two very important goals. In a nutshell, AF helps companies by letting consumers with autism know that they are welcome, and accepted in their establishment. (''Consumers with autism'' includes adult consumers with autism, as well as families with children who have autism. Consumers with autism can also include other family members of individuals with autism, such as siblings of an adult on the autism spectrum, etc.) It is very common that consumers with autism feel judged and even stigmatized. Sometimes the establishment unintentionally says or does something that shows a consumer with autism that they do not understand autism, and that is often enough to cause a customer to decide to not spend their money at the establishment. Sometimes because they do not feel welcome, and other times because it simply isnt' a positive experience. On other occasions, other patrons at the establishment pass judgment and can leave lasting impressions on your customers.

What are ways that companies unintentionally show their lack of awareness? Below are only a handful of very, very common scenarios. Can you tell what went wrong, and why?

1. As a young boy is talking to a grandmotherly shopkeeper, the boy is constantly looking away while the shopkeeper is talking. The nice lady says to the boy, "You know you should look at people when they are talking to you! You want to be polite, don't you?"

2. A young mother gets out of a car with two sons, one a teenager, the other a pre-teen. All three cross the street while one boy holds on to a book, and the other his iPod. They parked in a disabled parking spot, using a blue handicapped placard, and other shoppers shake their heads and complain to one another as the family walks by.

3. An adult male is wearing a shirt without an undershirt, and his chest hair is slightly visible through the shirt. During his day he goes into a clothes store, where the sales person tells him that he really should wear an undershirt with a think shirt like that.

4. At a restaurant, two tables are causing a stir among the waitstaff... At one table, there is a little girl laughing and talking very loudly, and at another table, a middle-aged couple keeps fiddling with the hanging light, and making the bulb loose. The manager can't do much about the loud talking, so instead they focus their attention on the couple, asking them to stop messing with the light.

5. A woman and child take a dog into a grocery store. The boy holds the leash and pets the dog while the woman reviews her shopping list. The dog is small, and is clearly not a seeing eye dog. (Seeing eye dogs are permitted in the store, but not regular pets.) In addition to the customers' complaints, the employees also agree that the dog should not be in the store. A group of employees approach the woman, child and dog to ensure that they leave the premises. As the woman tried to explain, several employees are talking at once in an argumentative tone saying that the dog needs to leave the store.

6. A young man wants to apply for a job as a computer technician. He says he has a lot of talent and is eager to apply. When he is directed by the manager to apply online, he tells the manager that he will need help completing the application. The manager slows his speaking and uses smaller words and shorter sentence structures, so the applicant can understand, and clarifies the information. The applicant is told to go to the websote, click on the link, and complete the application. He'll be contacted if there are openings. The applicant thanks the manager and leaves the store.

Some of the above are easier to figure out than others...! Here is some info on why the consumer with autism may decide not return to the establishments in the examples above:

1. The nice grandmotherly lady doesn't understand that the little boy thinks better when he reduces the visual input he sees when he is listening. Not looking at her actually helps him listen! The message that he gets (and his parents, of course) is that the child is being rude and is looking away intentionally.

2. The woman who parked in the disabled parking spot has a pre-teen with autism. Although he walks fine, he becomes go engrossed in what he is looking at or thinking about that he does not see obvious dangers, such as oncoming traffic. Drivers naturally expect that a kid of 10 or 12 will avoid moving cars, but a person with autism might not notice until too late.

3. The clothing salesperson doesn't realize that the man wearing the thin shirt without an undershirt does so because he has sensory issues which make thick shirts and layers very irritating. He is already self-conscious of his appearence through thin shirts, and hoped to find some stylish clothes. As a result of the interaction, he believes that he should give up trying to look better and just stay away from social events where he feels so out of place, appearence-wise.

4. At the restaurant, it's possible that the little girl has autism, as some people with autism aren't aware when they are talking loudly. But what about the couple? They weren't just playing with the light, they were dimming the light because people with autism can be light-sensitive. The light was hurting her eyes.

5. Not all service animals are seeing eye dogs. Any service animal that fits the ADA's definition is protected, and is permitted anywhere the individual with disabilities goes. People with service animals are required to answer if certain questions are asked, although service animals are not required to wear a special doggie-uniform, and the specific disability does not need to be disclosed to be permitted. If your establishment states that service animals are welcome, it is important to know what qualifies, and what the customer's rights are! Violate these rights and you may have more than an unsatisfied customer on your hands.

6. The man applying to be a computer technician may be very smart and very talented, but people with autism may need help completing employment applications. Why? Some questions, that seem clear to most people, can be vague to some people with autism. What about online applications? A computer technican should find that easy, right? Sometimes the reason that people with autism are very good at what we enjoy, is because we become very involved. Completing an online application might be on-par with a racing enthusiast driving a racecar around the track at 40mph, as the other race cars pass, going 140.

We understand things by thinking about them. But people with autism think differently than people who do not have autism, so it's extremely difficult to understand HOW a person with autism thinks if you are not autistic! Fortunately, there are other ways of understanding why people with autism think the way they do.

When Establishments and other companies and organizations let consumers know that they are aware of autism, and that they are Autism Friendly, consumers with autism are more likely to frequent the establishment, and share the establishment's Autism Friendly status with friends and family. The result is two-fold: More revenue for the establishment, and a great customer experience for those who have autism or family members with autism.

In short, everyone wins!

Companies who have completed the simple, free, honors-system process are welcome to post their company information below, as a response to this post. For more information on the AF process, please read the 'Becoming Autism Friendly' post at this site.

Autism. Understand it.


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Please read the post for information on comments. Some posts are designated as means for anyone to post information about Autism Friendly establishments. Posts can be made by anyone with or without a Blogger or Google account, and an e-mail address is not required.

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