A 100 Mile mom plans to distribute laminated “cheat sheets” to local businesses in an effort to raise awareness of autism in the community.
Brittany Wall is working with Blue Sky’s Autism Services’ Krysta Stewart to develop the laminated cards, which will offer key steps that businesses and their employees should take if a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder becomes upset in their stores. The tips include giving the parent and child more space and drawing other customers’ attention away from them so the child can de-escalate and calm down, which can sometimes take hours.
“Most people are amazing and open-minded and accepting when they have all the information,” Stewart said. “Autism is like an invisible disease and you can’t see it so a lot of people will judge you or think it’s just a meltdown. It’s not. These are really big emotions and really big things happening.”
Wall came up with the idea after experiencing a traumatic situation while shopping recently with her six-year-old autistic son. They were in a crowded store when he had a meltdown trying to reach for a toy on a top-shelf. With so many people around them, Wall wasn’t able to take him aside and calm him down.
The situation spiralled out of control, with an employee ushering them out of the store and following them to the car, making both Wall and her son even more upset. In many cases, the car is a safe space for autistic children.
“All she had to do was stop staring at us and keep working with the people, distracting them,” Wall said. “When he sees me getting upset, it just snowballs.”
One in 68 children in North America has autism, yet the neurological disorder, which affects social and community skills, is not always understood by everyone in the community, Stewart said. Although most businesses in 100 Mile are fairly accepting, she said, some parents will isolate themselves at home for fear of their child becoming overstimulated or having a meltdown in public. Wall, for instance, said she won’t shop at that business again because it was too traumatic.
The women hope the cheat sheets will provide more comfort not only to store employees and their customers when faced with such a situation but will result in more parents of autistic children feeling better about shopping in the community. They would like to have cards left by the register for easy access, while also having some on hand to pass out to employees or the public if their child is over-stimulated.
Wall is also reaching out to the BCEdAccess – Action for Equitable Access to Education to see if there is an opportunity to offer presentations in schools to teach kids about autism and other disabilities.
“Due to COVID and restructuring in stores, using only one entrance, it creates more stress in these kids that they don’t understand,” Stewart said. “All of these new rules and regulations our children have no understanding of. We don’t want people to turn a blind eye and ignore us but to give us space.”