Blue Sky Autism is promoting autism acceptance as part of Autism Awareness Month.
The Lone Butte organization has participated for six years in the annual event, which takes place April 15 at the 100 Mile House outdoor skating rink from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Members with Blue Sky Autism will read a book about a boy with autism – his superpower strength – and partner with Cariboo Partners for Literacy on a walk through the town. Families with autistic children or those wanting to join in on the fun are welcome to join.
“The best part (of the event) is just seeing all the families coming together and interacting with each other and seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces as they’re having fun together,” said Addilyn Ratcliff, program coordinator for Blue Sky Autism. She noted some of the sensory stations, which will include a balloon guessing game, rainbow spaghetti, craft stations, face painting, a bubble machine, ball pit, yoga and more.
Blue Sky Autism opened seven years ago, starting with only a few clients. Now 21 students come to their cattle ranch and participate in various activities Monday through Thursday year-round. Outdoor play opportunities include petting animals, which help children with autism to self-regulate, calm their nervous systems and perhaps act as a conversation starter for those who are shyer.
Ratcliff said it is vital for children with autism to feel accepted and welcome in the community.
One of the biggest challenges, she said, is educating people on how to respond when they witness a family with a child having a meltdown. The best thing to do is give the family space to work with their child, as children with autism aren’t trying to misbehave.
“Children with autism are more sensitive to sensors around them. So the lights, smells and sounds are much more sensitive to them than the typical person. When they’re having a meltdown, they’re much more attuned to all the people that are watching and talking around them and that can make the meltdown last even longer,” she said.
“That’s why we suggest that people give families space to help eliminate that sensory overload for the child.”
It’s also crucial for adults to demonstrate how to be a good friend, as children with autism don’t always know what’s socially acceptable, she said. Modelling to children how to act when another child behaves differently helps to exhibit acceptance of others, Ratcliff said.
FreshCo is one of the businesses taking action in autism acceptance. Manager Daniel Broddy said once a week on Sundays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., they offer a low sensory experience, by lowering the lights and turning off their PA system so there are no intercom announcements or music.
They also remove the hand scanners, as the beeping is quite loud, and delay the collection of shopping carts to keep the store as quiet as possible.
Broddy said these practices allow families to shop in an environment with less sensory stimulation, hopefully making it less stressful.
For those wanting to learn more about autism, check out AutismBC at www.autismbc.ca or Blue Sky Autism’s Facebook page.
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