Dear Dr. Amy:
I am hoping you can help me with a problem. My teenage son is on the autism spectrum. When he gets excited he often engages in stimming behavior such as hand flapping, groaning and jumping up and down. These behaviors can make it challenging to attend cultural events in the community. I have written him social narratives for how to “behave” according to neurotypical guidelines when at events such as plays and concerts, but I don’t feel as though he should have to limit his excitement at these kinds of events as that is unfair to him. Also, I don’t want to be judged as a “bad parent” for “allowing him to act that way." Do you have any suggestions for my son and me?
Wanting to be Included
Dear Wanting to be Included:
I am glad to hear you are not wanting to limit your son’s enjoyment of these activities. It's incredibly important for all people to have access to their communities, whether they are neurotypical or not, and it's equally important for individuals to be able to express their emotions in ways that feel right to them.
AuSM is actively involved in helping community spaces be more inclusive. As part of this, we've created
AuSM's Guide to Sensory Friendly Minnesota
which you can find online
. This resource provides a monthly listing of events, places, and activities that identify as "sensory-friendly," a phrase that encompasses both sensory accommodations and a spirit of inclusivity.
Try attending a sensory friendly performance in which people are invited to participate in whatever manner is most comfortable for them. Often sensory-friendly events will be a place where people can engage in stimming behavior with no judgement. For example, Children’s Theatre Company and Orchestra Hall offer sensory-friendly performances and Como Park Zoo & Conservatory offers autism early entry on specific days. During these performances, people are encouraged to express their excitement in whatever way they choose. Participants also may move around if that helps them feel better within the environment. There are also dozens of other types of sensory-friendly events. Your son could try a few and determine what he likes best.
Sensory-friendly events and activities allow a person to have a sense of community and be included in places where they sometimes can feel excluded because of an expectation of having to “fit in” and “follow the rules." Instead of feeling judged or critiqued, participants are welcomed and encouraged to enjoy the community.