A few weeks ago, I met with the Interpretive Association at the Cradle of Forestry (I’m working with them to make an autism-friendly adventure trail in Brevard!), and had a pleasant surprise. I had just pulled out my soapbox (which is never far from my side), in order to drone on about how to set up a successful autism program, when this quiet intern who I hadn’t met before stops me and says,
“Before we begin, I just want to say that I have Aspergers Syndrome.”
Sweet! My work here just got 500% easier.
Let me explain. This is what I would have soapboxed about:
A. People with autism don’t need the fun ‘toned-down’ for them. As a group, they don’t need easier games, flatter terrain, or simplistic versions. I have never come across an activity that people with autism just cannot do, because of their autism. Sometimes people with autism need more thorough explanations (often in a visual format) about what to do, but that doesn’t mean they should have to play the boring game, or do the undemanding activity. In fact, just like myself and other neurotypicals, people on the spectrum get squirrelly and/or tune-out when they’re bored.
B. We all need more thorough explanations sometimes (often in a visual format). How many of us send out meeting agendas (or wish we would) before we have meetings, so that the whole meeting knows what to expect? How many of us have travelled to a place where we don’t speak the language, and wished we could access a more thorough explanation, in a format we could understand?
C. As a group (with some exceptions), people with autism process information more easily when it is written down, or in a picture format if they do not read. Using visual explanations/expectations gives people with autism more access to the fun (read: life). It really doesn’t have to take a boatload of effort for our parks, museums, restaurants, and bars (yes! People with autism drink too!) to be more accessible to more people on the autism spectrum.
But I didn’t have to say all that, because this intern was there, who they clearly knew and respected. Nobody in the meeting was about to look this kid in the face and suggest that we set up even slightly dumbed –down adventures, or that we ‘protect the autism population’ by making the games too safe (read: boring). Kudos to the Cradle of Forestry for hiring someone on the autism spectrum, and for respecting that person’s expertise (in forestry and in autism).
Blue Ridge Bags and More is a small business, owned by the Autism Society of North Carolina, which employs adults with autism. As part of my job at the Autism Society, I am the official director of Blue Ridge Bags, which is how I know that we need some serious help! See, we have a really cool business, that is actually useful for folks (with and without autism), but nobody knows about us!
We have two parts to our business, and sadly, neither of them is making any money, so I’d like to appeal to you, dear readers, to help me spread the word about Blue Ridge Bags, in the hopes that we can boost sales.What We Do at Blue Ridge Bags
Our adults with autism assemble TEACCH Home Teaching Kits, which are actually pretty sweet. I have seen a lot of gimmicky autism products in my 10 years in the field, and I can safely say that Home Teaching Kits are useful. They consist of a collection of tasks for a person with autism to do (usually sitting at a table), and an instructional video of how to run the tasks as a parent or helper. The coolest part about them is that parents or helpers who use Home Teaching Kits will actually learn to run any kind of task, and possibly invent their own tasks.
The people with autism who work for us also produce art, which we heat transfer onto canvas bags, mouse pads, cards etc. This part is so fun for all of us. We get to set up environments that are inspiring to the artists (nice lighting, spinney things, photos of their favorite stuff on the walls), and offer a variety of supplies, and then see what happens. Each artist decides if they want to donate their art to the business, or if they want a percentage of profit.
Right now, we employ people with autism who have job coaches (publicly funded), who help them manage their time, take breaks when they need to, and organize their workload. Our accounting and marketing is done out of the state office of the Autism Society of NC, but I would like to hire people on the spectrum to do those jobs for our business. In fact, I would prefer that someone with autism ran the business, but we don’t have money to pay for any of that. SO. If you would like to buy teaching kits, or art, NOW IS THE TIME! If you have any great ideas for helping Blue Ridge Bags, please be in touch!
In order to increase our revenue, we are also offering our services in bulk mailings, or other such office-type tasks. Please email me firstname.lastname@example.org!