A local group has made several moves in the last two years to make Bloomington-Normal friendlier to people with autism.
In that time, Autism McLean has created new spaces for people on the spectrum to gather, such as a summer camp and a social cafe at the Normal Public Library.
Chuck Hartseil said on GLT’s Sound Ideas the group is also working to educate community groups and businesses about autism.
“We want to continue to raise awareness within the community,” Hartseil said. “We want to make sure that individuals with autism feel more relaxed going into businesses. We’re looking to network with other organizations in the area that are providing services to help them better respond to individuals with autism.”
One way Autism McLean is doing this is through the use of sensory bags.
“(These) are bags that businesses can have that will provide different items for individuals with autism to help them relax within that environment or have a better experience there so they’re not anxious over loud noises or things of that nature,” Hartseil said.
Contents of the bag include headphones, dark glasses, fidget toys and teething items to chew on.
Hartseil said the group is also continuing to approach businesses in regard to employment opportunities. They’re trying to show that workers who have autism can be good employees.
“We’re focusing on the abilities that they might bring to a position or to a company,” Hartseil said. “This is an opportunity for them to be in attendance, follow routine, (and) when given directions, they will follow those out to the letter. So we’re accentuating the positive aspects of what can happen.”
Hartseil added the issues individuals with autism may run into at the workplace often involve interpersonal relations.
For Marty Murphy of Autism McLean, small talk is a challenge.
“I don’t make small talk well, and I’m expected to. And I don’t really understand why I’m expected to make small talk,” Murphy said. “To me, you’re not conveying anything. Small talk is pointless. I would rather sit in silence.”
Murphy said it is also important that employers are clear about exactly what they are asking of their employees who are on the autism spectrum.
She added the way to help neuro-standard people understand how individuals with autism react to interpersonal and business situations is spreading awareness.
“I think that just comes from awareness. We seem unusual, but we’re not violent,” Murphy said. “I think as word spreads and autism awareness grows, people are becoming more aware of the diversity.”
The group has also worked with the Jaycees and Marcfirst to develop an inclusive playground at Harmony Park and is working to help individuals with autism accommodate themselves within college environments.
Autism McLean will hold a celebration Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Uptown Circle in Normal recognizing different people and businesses in the community who have demonstrated an autism friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
You can also listen to the full interview:
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