This month's blog article was featured in the April 2023 issue of our digital newsletter, Aspire Wire. To receive future Aspire Wire emails, subscribe here.

by Kellsey Donovan, MS, CAGS
Associate Program Manager, Teen and Adult Services

It’s April, which means it’s World Autism Month! This month is a great time to stop and reflect on all the things we can do to help to create a more inclusive and neurodiverse world. Sometimes it can feel daunting to try and individually accomplish this goal. One way in which individuals can make things more inclusive for neurodiverse people is to implement small changes to develop sensory friendly spaces. These recommendations could be implemented in classrooms, workplaces, or other settings and come from the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

In terms of visual information, consider using clear or contrasting colors for presentation slides, making signs/handouts easy and simple to read, and limiting overwhelming visuals by removing distracting posters or graphics. You could also consider using diffused light sources rather than overhead or fluorescent lights. It is also important to take note of the colors in a space, as some autistic individuals may have color sensitivity.

When thinking about auditory information, consider implementing materials that reduce echo, such as rugs, curtains, or soft furniture. If you’re a part of larger gatherings, consider giving reminders to silence phone notifications, replacing applause with a quieter alternative, and ensuring sounds in presentations are consistent (sometimes video clips come out at different volumes).

Tactile information is another important component of the sensory experience. To help create a more sensory-inclusive environment, normalize the use of fidgets and/or similar activities, such as doodling. To give people enough space, consider spacing out chairs, providing alternative seating options, or providing somewhat private seating near corners or other barriers. It could be helpful to incorporate a variety of seating options to accommodate different needs, such as seats with wheels, seats with and without armrests, and other options. You could also encourage individuals to dress comfortably, or to reevaluate dress codes in order to make everyone feel welcome to dress in a way that is consistent with their sensory needs.

Lastly, there are changes that could be made to support sensory experiences related to taste and smell. If you are  deciding food options at an event, consider telling attendees the menu beforehand as well as having backup food options. For individuals with strong reactions to smells, consider banning the use of strong perfumes in your setting or using sensory-friendly cleaning supplies. Making these small changes can have a big impact on how autistic individuals experience a space. It could also be helpful to solicit feedback about the sensory environment in order to better understand others’ experiences. Taking the time to ask questions is always appreciated and a helpful way to gain more understanding.

As you think about World Autism Month this year and the small changes you can implement to make spaces more inclusive for those around you, I also encourage you to seek out information from autistic voices. This is another way in which individuals can take a small step towards change and a great place to start in understanding and valuing the autistic experience!