Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) now affects 1 in about 86 children, according to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates.
To help the children and families affected, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced during his recent State of the State address a new initiative he's calling "Autism Friendly Tampa."
While the changes are still in the planning stages, city officials say they are working closely with the USF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) to make some changes to help the many local families who are affected by the developmental disorder.
Some ideas include creating a resource guide to autism-friendly and accessible programs, places and events around the city.
The city is also taking a closer look at all the events and programs they hold to see if they can improve or better accommodate autism-affected families.
Changes could include placing signs at parks establishing "designated quiet spaces" and creating new programming in parks for autism-friendly classes like yoga, dance, sports, and more.
To make these new programs happen, Buckhorn says the city will be training city staff, like parks and recreation personnel. The Mayor will be forming an Autism Friendly advisory committee to focus on meeting city goals, recruit businesses to get designated as “Autism Friendly,” host events, and provide general guidance on the issue.
Many local establishments are already designated at "Autism Friendly" and many in the community have taken the lead on the issue.
For instance, the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center is in rehearsals right now for a show called You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown that has designed one of their performances to be a "sensory-friendly" presentation to be easier to watch for those with autism or other disabilities. The performance, to be held on April 23 at 2 p.m. in the TECO Theater, lower sound and light levels, a reduction in strobe lighting, and lighting focused on the audience. Patrons will also be free to talk and leave their seats during the performance, with a special quiet area within the theater.
Another autism-awareness event, an ASD Walk Pep Rally, is going on is tonight, Friday evening from 5 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. at the Seminole Heights Elementary School.
On the evening of Sunday, April 9., Jackson's Bistro in Tampa is holding a Karaoke Night for Autism from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. as a fundraiser for autism awareness.
Loud noises, bright lights and large crowds can be especially uncomfortable for children with special needs.
Here's a list of other local establishments who have gone out of their way to create a special, "sensory-friendly" atmosphere for those with autism:
- AMC Theatres partners with the Autism Society to offer sensory and family friendly movies on the second and fourth Saturday of every month.
- At their Tampa location, the indoor trampoline park Sky Zone offers monthly sensory-friendly sessions with music turned off and lights turned down.
- LEGOLAND Florida has placed a great emphasis on making their park more autism-friendly, including providing “quiet rooms” for special needs families, and LEGOLAND employees also receive bi-annual training from staff at Autism Speaks to educate new hires.
- The Glazer Children’s Museum in downtown Tampa has created "Sunshine Sundays" where, on the last Sunday of every other month, the Museum provides special needs families with an opportunity to explore the museum with lights and sounds turned down.
- Great Connections at Great Explorations Children’s Museum in St. Petersburg provides, on the second Sunday of every month, a quieter experience where the lights and sounds are turned down, and they also establish a “cool down” room.