MetroWest organizations strive to make everything from breweries to museums more welcoming to people with autism and sensory sensitivity. Here are some places where outdoor activities, shops and restaurants are designed to meet the needs of people with sensory needs.
Ride a horse
Horse SenseAbility in Sherborn offers programs with specially selected horses for therapeutic purposes.
Programs include therapeutic horseback riding, a mentoring program for foster children and Wildstar Wranglers, a professional program for 18 to 25 year olds with autism. There is also a certified physiotherapist who comes once a week to work with clients and horses.
“My initial goal and love is to work with young people who have social, emotional and behavioral issues, including autism, because I see the impact of being with animals, especially horses,” said said Polly Kornblith, Founder and Executive Director. . Kornblith is a Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, Equine Mental Health and Learning Specialist and is also part of a registered therapy team with Shetland Pony Hugo, who has their own personalized van for therapy tours.
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Kornblith said horses are unique because even though they are big, they are prey. This means that horses are very sensitive to changes in their environment – people have to learn to be quiet and calm around these large animals in order to form a bond. Horses make it easier, she says.
“They are extremely – sometimes overly – friendly,” Kornblith said. “It doesn’t sound like therapy, and we’re not clinicians… if [clients] bond, and are happy, and their behavior is regulated and they connect with animals or people, we have achieved our goal.
The barn also has chickens, a rabbit named Johnny Cashew and a goat named Willie Nelson.
The indoor arena is wheelchair accessible – not only to get off the arena, but also with devices that allow wheelchair users to get on safely. There is also an outdoor riding area with activity stations that can be done both on horseback and without a horse, such as throwing a ball through tires hanging from trees and opening and closing letterboxes. . Home improvement retailer Lowe’s helped create the outdoor activity space as a community service project.
“It’s not about the constituency, it’s about the relationship,” Kornblith said. “You can tell a horse any secret and it won’t go any further.”
Businesses with autism hosting events
The Autism Alliance, a program that is part of Advocates, a Framingham-based non-profit organization, has created a program and certification to make businesses more accessible to all through training and awareness.
“The most important thing for us is educating the staff, because we go there and we do sort of autism 101 and then we talk to them about the little impactful accommodations that they might be able to make,” said Pamela McKillop, the co-executive. -director of the Autism Alliance.
Certification involves a tour of the facility – sometimes a virtual tour due to the pandemic – and comments on ways the space could be more welcoming. Things like having seats in areas away from noisy places like the kitchen, and having menus with pictures so people who can’t read can still have some autonomy when ordering.
Becoming more welcoming can also mean designating a specific time for certain accommodations, such as lowered lights and music.
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“We believe that the more education there is, the more understanding there is, both makes the facility more comfortable with the people entering and allows families to be more comfortable – knowing that the staff who are there are welcoming and knowledgeable, ”McKillop said.
Local businesses already certified include Burton’s Grill & Bar in Framingham and Shrewsbury, Southwick Zoo in Mendon, Wegmans Food Market in Natick and Framingham Barnes & Noble. A complete list of certified companies is available on the Autism Alliance website.
The Discovery Museum in Acton also hosts Autism Welcoming and, starting in October, will offer a program called “Especially for me”. The program is for families with autistic, deaf, hard of hearing and visually impaired children, although a medical diagnosis is not required, according to their website. The program is free but registration is required.
Sensory Days at Mass Audubon
Nature, with all of its different sounds, smells and textures – especially if there are crowds of people – can be “overwhelming” for some, said Erin Pitkin, accessibility coordinator for Mass Audubon in MetroWest.
That’s why Mass Audubon started Sensory-Friendly Days, allowing people to enjoy the outdoors at specific times when shrines are closed to the public or are quieter than usual.
“I thought it would be a good idea for us to set aside time specifically for people with autism or with sensory needs, so that they have the opportunity to experience our shrines at quieter times,” said Pitkin. “It’s just a good overall practice of inclusiveness, and I know our participants were happy to have this opportunity.”
Registration is required, but the program is free. There are sensory days at Mass Audubon properties including Belmont, Princeton, Natick and Worcester.
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“What’s been great are the smiles from the participants coming out and having fun,” said Pitkin. She also said family members and caregivers “are very grateful for understanding the needs of their loved ones or those they care for.”
Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm in Lincoln also has an environmental education program for people with special needs called Leaders in Environmental Access For All at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.
“They will work around the farm, whether it’s work on the property or ecological monitoring and data collection, wildlife or livestock care and visitor education,” he said. she declared. The work is focused on the interests of the participants and what they are working towards, whether professional or traditional goals.
For places looking to start their own programs, Pitkin recommended starting small and “think about your organization and what accessibility and inclusiveness means to you as an organization and how you would fit that into your organization. objectives as an organization ”.
“The sensory days are part of our action program on inclusion and diversity,” said Pitkin. “Staying within the goals and missions of your organization is also essential and can be a challenge. “
Lillian Eden can be reached at 617-459-6409 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LillianWEden.