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Normalizing autism

Jul 03

My story, Libraries and Autism: Connected , was published today on Age of Autism. It’s really about a lot more than libraries accommodating people with autism. It’s about the scary reality that as a society we’re willing to accept an epidemic of neurologically disabled children–no questions asked.

June 25, 2011, I found an interesting piece on Google News about libraries serving the needs of disabled young people, especially those with autism. (School Library Journal)

“Working with disabled teens isn’t easy, but you can learn how to adapt programs, build relationships, and partner with caregivers and teachers to provide the best possible service for this group, said a panel of librarians Saturday during the ‘Serving Teens with Disabilities’ session at the American Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans.”

On December 4, 2010, Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill spoke at the U. of MN. I asked them how much longer we’ll be able to ignore the epidemic. How long can we pretend that it’s acceptable to have one percent of children with autism, including almost 2 percent of boys?  Youtube

Here was Mark’s response:

Denial can go on for a long time. The denialists can win. You can find these examples where the medical industry has ‘normalized’ an epidemic and successfully persuaded themselves that either a new disease has always been with us or some old disease has disappeared and it’s inconsequential that it did. Denial and the ability of the medical industry to write the rules about how we interpret trends are both powerful forces. And there’s a real risk that we’ll ‘normalize’ autism. We’ll deny the epidemic. We’ll declare it a normal condition of mankind from the beginning. And there are powerful forces — industrial forces, political forces — that want to write history that way.

I started all this out thinking that if we just wrote down the facts and shared the evidence, if we did it in a professional and responsible way, well-meaning people would listen and they’d do something about it. And I was sadly mistaken. I think all of us are learning that powerful forces like the ones we’re facing are often blind — blinded by their own interests. It’s not that they’re evil or malicious, [although] some of them might be. I’m certainly willing to accept that notion. But the vast majority is more content not to confront the problem and it’s our job as a community to force them to. It’s one of the reasons we wrote the book. It’s one of the reasons we write the blog. It’s one of the reasons you e-mail, Anne. I think we are not winning. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep fighting. But we have to find new ways to engage.

My AOA story today clearly shows that Mark’s words have come true.  Not only are libraries, schools, babysitters, and industry adjusting to the needs of people with autism, but recent news stories showed employees at a theme park were getting autism training. Also reports from all over the country tell us about autism-friendly movie theaters.

And as this recent Huffington Post story shows, churches are also adjusting to autism.

This story was just out from the Hartford Courant: Lake Compounce Promoting Education About Autism Among Employees And Guests–Park Staff Receives Special Training Each Year

Lake Compounce theme park became aware of the challenges and special needs of people with autism about five years ago and has since been teaming up with the New England chapter of the Autism Speaks organization to help autistic children and adults feel welcome and comfortable at the park.

Park manager Jerry Brick said he was approached in 2006 by Noreen Simmons, an Autism Speaks volunteer who frequently visits the park with her family, including her autistic child. Simmons suggested that Autism Speaks could teach park employees how to identify signs of autism in a person who appears to be acting out. . . .

Each year since then, a group of about 100 Lake Compounce employees has attended an Autism Speaks “boot camp” at the start of the park season. They learn to recognize signs of autism and how to respond to the needs of autistic guests. These park employees then train the park’s other 1,300 staff members.

Atlanta, GA: AJC, Cars 2, Harry Potter are Sensory Friendly Films

Three metro Atlanta AMC Theatres and the Autism Society have come together to host Sensory Friendly Films for the autistic and their families in July.

Ann Arbor, MI: Rave hosting movies for children on autism spectrum or with disability

Rave Motion Pictures has introduced a new monthly series of movie screenings called ‘Sensitive Sensory Cinemas,’ geared to families with children who have special needs-specifically, those who have a disability or are on some stage of the autism spectrum.

In an announcement of the series, Jason Wiles, lead manager at Rave, wrote, “We realize that bringing children with autism to the theater can be quite a challenge. Each child reacts differently to the normal conditions of the theater, darkened theaters, and loud sound systems. These shows are shown at a light and sound level which will be more inviting for these families.”

Evansville, IN Courier & Press: A trip to the movies, without the rules

The theater lights were up and the sound turned down.

No one so much as batted an eye when ‘Kung Fu Panda 2′ began and several children continued to talk and laugh, children like 10-year-old Bradley Blair.

Bradley, like many of the other children in the theater that Saturday morning, has autism, a complex neurodevelopmental disability that affects his ability to communicate and interact with those around him. For many people affected by autism, sitting still and keeping quiet through a normal movie screening can be something of a chore.

Madison County Courier (NY) Hamilton Theater Hosts Sensory Friendly Screenings

Hamilton Theater will host a series of sensory friendly screenings this summer for moviegoers affected by sensory processing issues. The series kicks off Saturday June 25 at 12:30 p.m. with the new Disney feature, Cars 2.

Children with Autism often experience normal sounds as too loud, normal textures as too uncomfortable, and high contrasts between dark and light places as alarming. In addition, they may need to move and talk out loud during the showing of a movie.

This is true for many children without autism as well. Sensory Processing Disorder can occur by itself, or in conjunction with Attention Deficit Disorders and other neurological differences. Families with children who become distressed in a movie theater, or who move and talk out loud during a show, will avoid attending movies altogether.

The Columbian (WA): Movie screening will be sensory-friendly

This movie is designed to cater to people who have sensory-processing problems as well as those with verified mental disorders such as epilepsy or autism. Sensory-friendly movies are presented with dimmed lights rather than no lights, doors open 30 minutes early, the sound is turned down and getting up out of your seat is acceptable.

Also, gluten-free and gluten-free, casein-free snacks are allowed in the theater.

Oak Creek WI: Film Series Geared Toward Special-Needs Children

Again this summer, South Shore Cinema will hold movie showings specifically designed for families of special-needs children with autism or other challenges.

The ‘Reel Movies for Real Needs’ series offers family films with a lower sound volume and brighter lighting for families who may not feel comfortable attending regularly scheduled shows, according to a Marcus Theatres news release.

Sounds like we’re getting pretty used to having autism as just another part of the human condition.

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