Have you ever had a moment that you’d like to stay in for much longer than it lasted? You hopefully took a few pictures, so at least you would be able to remember a few of the good times spent with family and friends. One such event was the Until All the Pieces Fit Autism Appreciation event that was sponsored by Chick-fil-A-Fall Creek that greatly benefitted Including Kids’ students and their families this past Saturday evening.
From top to bottom, this event was designed with the sensory and behavioral needs of these fantastic individuals in mind. The room itself was neatly organized but had plenty of room for movement between the round tables. The outside edges were lined with puzzles, thousands of LEGO pieces, a photo booth made of balloons–courtesy of the professional balloon artist who was stationed in a far corner and crafted nearly any balloon creation you could imagine–a fantastic face painter who took requests, and the sound system with great dance music and an iPad bingo app connected!
Plenty of members worked the event along with several volunteers. Volunteers helped engage the children playing at the LEGO station and also helped some with playing bingo. Watching from the back table by where the bingo prizes were displayed, I saw the expressions as individuals and families entered the room and began to explore the venue. True to form, the LEGO station drew a large crowd, but during the three-hour evening, there were balloon arrows being fired across the room, faces painted with birds and flowers, a tiger, and even a cow that matched the Chick-fil-A mascot really well!
A truly autism-friendly event allows individuals to express themselves in their own unique manner, without judgment or threat of removal, should the expression be deemed inappropriate for the venue. We anticipated the possible pitfalls of the environment prior to the arrival of our guests, so breakable objects were moved and kept out of sight. There was a quiet room prepared for those that needed to escape from the noise, and the exit was staffed so that parents did not have to worry as much about the escape artists in the room. The foresight of that decision was much-appreciated given that one individual needed to be up and running most of the time.
Even the bingo game was modified with appropriate visuals and played at a steady pace, with numbers announced and repeated each time. There were no expectations that it would be a quiet or calm atmosphere, and movement was not only acceptable but encouraged in this safe and accommodating place.
Tips for hosting an autism-friendly event:
- Allow for plenty of space to move around
- Arrange a quiet space for individuals who need to calm down or need less sensory input
- Keep music and microphone announcements at a lower volume, without sudden spikes in volume
- Avoid bright lighting
- Monitor exits in the event an individual may elope
- Consider using visuals as needed for activities
- Accommodate special diets and/or allow outside food and drink so that individuals on special diets can bring their own
- Plan activities for a variety of ages and abilities, including the siblings
- Recruit volunteers or staff to help engage children in activities or assist with difficult tasks
- Have an event schedule in place but be flexible if the plan needs to change in the moment
We truly thank our local Chick-fil-A-Fall Creek sponsors, Erica and Dwayne Johnston, for their incredible commitment to this event. The scrumptious food more than filled each one of us, and decorating the Chick-fil-A miniature cows with autism ribbons was a fabulous touch. In my humble opinion, the thoughtfulness on the part of these incredible sponsors to bring a gift for each family, and the autism puzzle pieces on the (gluten free!) triple layer cake put the event in a category all its own.
About the Author
Joel C. Johnson is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and serves as the Assistant Community Outreach Director for Including Kids. He has six years experience working with young adults with autism and enjoys the uniqueness of this disability population. Joel worked at Utah State University as an assistant track and field coach for several years and as the coordinator of the EmployAbility clinic for nearly two years, helping to develop a program placing individuals with autism and other disabilities into competitive employment.
He understands educational, public, private, for profit, and nonprofit business work environments and cultures. He is dedicated to providing the highest quality services to his clients and their families, and is an advocate for individuals with disabilities to experience full community inclusion.
Originally Seen On JustVibeHouston.com