Moms Who Inspire

Parents Make a Mini Blockbuster Store for Their Autistic Son

Blockbuster declared bankruptcy back in 2010 and even though DISH Network bought the last stores in 2011, most of us just assumed that all Blockbuster stores were long gone. But it turns out that there are still a few in Alaska and Texas.

Unfortunately, the one in Sharyland, Texas, also just closed its doors, and its closure has gotten Twitter user Jaavii’s 20-year-old brother, Hector, upset. Jaavii posted on the social media site that his brother, who has autism, “was sad that Blockbuster was closing down.”

But Hector didn’t have to be sad for long, as his parents built him his own “mini Blockbuster,” stocked with his favorite movies and cartoons. They even got a DVD rack topped with Blockbuster signs that they’d bought from the store when it closed.

While Hector is non-verbal, Jaavii’s photos show that his brother was happy and clapping with joy. Our hats off to these enterprising—and ausome—parents.

Speechless with Carly Fleischmann and James Van Der Beek

Carly Fleischmann recently videotaped and posted Episode 2 of her successful “Speechless w/Carly Fleischmann” show, the first “non-verbal” talk show.

Episode 1 of Carly’s show — a fantastic and fun interview with Channing Tatum — received 3.8 million views. That success made digital media and YouTube experts, Fine Brothers Entertainment (FBE), take notice.

FBE partnered with Carly and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in order to produce more episodes of “Speechless,” and release them monthly on Carly’s YouTube channel. FBE will help market them via YouTube to give Carly even more exposure.

This latest episode features an interview with James Van Der Beek.

We adore Carly’s exuberant, and teasingly pointed, nature. And we congratulate her on her partnership with FBE and CBC, which will allow her to keep doing what she’s doing. Being Carly. We love it.

Autism Eats — (How to Start) Dining Out with Autism

Being a parent of a child with autism can be hard. I do not think this is a statement that breaks any new ground. We miss many of the things that on the surface seem so simple and enjoyable, but in practice are not.

There may be no more stressful situation for an autism family than a trip to a restaurant. It is anything but simple and enjoyable. There can be anxiety over being in a new place, sensory overload due to the sights and sounds, favorite foods are not always on the menu and the server may take too long bringing the food and check. Children with autism might not want to sit still, preferring instead to bolt for the door, flop on the ground or play their iPhones too loudly.

The tension builds: Other diners may look in our direction and the restaurant does not know how to help.

Many autism families decide the stress of dining out outweighs the enjoyment and so choose not to go. We were clearly one of these families that succumbed to the stress and limited our restaurant outings.

My wife Delphine and I started Autism Eats because we missed going out and wanted to enjoy time with our family and friends at a restaurant. We knew that other autism families felt the same way.

So three years ago, we created the Autism Eats restaurant model that ensures success and enjoyment for all guests.

Restaurants are carefully selected and must have the right physical layout for us to create our non-judgmental zone. Everyone in our room “gets it,” so there is no need to feel like all eyes are on us or to apologize for anything. All behaviors are welcome.

Families are greeted at the door to confirm that they made the right decision to join us today. They are escorted to a family table or a community table as a natural way to meet new friends. Reservations and payments are made in advance, and a variety of kid and adult food is served buffet-style. There is no waiting. Kids receive toys, and lights and background music are both turned down.

All potential obstacles to an enjoyable experience are accounted for and corrected.

To date, we have had 25 brunch, lunch and dinner events in independent and chain restaurants in multiple communities across Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Illinois, Florida and Hawaii. In the next two months, new communities in Georgia, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois, Missouri and New Brunswick will hold their first Autism Eats events.

More than 2,000 individuals with autism, their parents, siblings, extended family, friends, teachers and caregivers, have come together for Autism Eats restaurant events. We have watched people enjoy a typical restaurant outing with their families, make new friends, arrange playdates, schedule rounds of golf, network, and discuss the news, sports and politics. Wow!

If you are looking to bring your autism community together, meet new people and have fun, then starting an Autism Eats club is an easy way to do it.

We will provide you with the step-by-step instructions, from selecting the restaurant to menu planning, community outreach and running the events. We will also promote your events on the Autism Eats website, take reservations, collect payment and pay the restaurant.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Autism Eats directly.

Our upcoming events include:

  • 3/18: Dinner at Fireside Restaurant, Chicago, IL (sold out)
  • 3/20: Dinner at Red Rooster Harlem, New York, NY
  • 3/21: Dinner at Chelo’s, Providence, RI
  • 4/12: Brunch at BJ’s Restaurant, Victorville, CA
  • 4/ 24:Dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy, Boston, MA
  • 4/25: Dinner at Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q, Marietta, GA

Elementary Teacher Creates Sensory Chair for Students

The Raymond Ellis Elementary School in Round Lake, Illinois, recently made waves on Facebook when it posted a photo of one of its teachers with the “sensory chair” that she had created. Miss Maplethorpe teaches in the school’s Speech and Language Department, and she used tennis balls and cloth to create a chair for some of her students with sensory issues. As the school stated in its post:

Sensory seating is used for students who may have difficulty processing information from their senses and from the world around them. Tennis balls on the seat and backrest provide an alternative texture to improve sensory regulation. Students with autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, sensory processing disorder, etc. may benefit from this seating option.

Notice the school’s use of the word, “may.” As many people on Facebook were quick to point out, this chair looks uncomfortable. However, those experienced with sensory conditions disagree, explaining that some people find “typical” chairs extremely hard to sit in because they require more sensory input than just a flat surface. Sensory seekers often get comfort from objects that those without sensory conditions don’t understand at all — i.e., objects such as rocks and Legos.

As we all know, every person is different, and this chair may be too stimulating for some, while not stimulating enough for others. For more information, please see the post:

Miss Maplethorpe, from our Speech and Language Department created these chairs for our students that have sensory…

Posted by Raymond Ellis Elementary School on Thursday, January 26, 2017

2017 NFL Pro Bowl to Be Autism-Friendly

This Sunday, the NFL’s Pro Bowl will take place in Orlando, Florida. As the location of Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and more, Orlando is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the U.S. And it’s about to get a little friendlier.

For the first time, this year’s Pro Bowl is striving to be as autism-friendly as possible. This includes sensory tools, a designated quiet room, and specially trained staff to help families. The staff will include both security personnel and Camping World employees, who will learn more about autism and the ways that they may be able to assist autistic families during the game.

Special Sensory Sacks will be available to all families, thanks to efforts by the group A-OK Autism in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which worked closely with the NFL. These sacks will contain a stress ball, noise-cancelling headphones, and a stadium wristband where the wearer’s seating information can be written down in case they get lost. The sacks will also contain a lanyard and badge that a person with autism or other developmental disability can wear to let others know, for example, if they are unable to speak. Of course, the badges can be worn or not worn at the individual’s or family’s discretion.

“Our goal is to make the game as family-friendly as possible,” Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s senior vice president of social responsibility, told the Orlando Sentinel. “We want to see if this is something the fans take advantage of and, if so, whether we can extend it to the Super Bowl and perhaps share it with the rest of the league.”

The NFL got the idea of an autism-friendly game from the Seattle Seahawks, which has six players on the NFC Pro Bowl Roster. The Seahawks first teamed with A-OK Autism in October 2015. Seahawks General Manager John Schneider and his wife have a child with autism, and they helped institute the same autism-friendly amenities—including the trademarked Sensory Sacks—at Seahawks Stadium then, with much success.

The program will be announced to Pro Bowl attendees on Game Day, and they’ll get instructions on where to go to pick up the Sensory Sacks.

The idea behind this is that there isn’t always a visual way to recognize if someone has autism,” Isaacson said. “And it’s hard for people who aren’t experienced with it to recognize that certain behaviors are part of the autism spectrum. We just want to make sure we’re creating a safe and comfortable and inclusive environment.”

In addition to the Seahawks, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts have also been working to make their games and facilities autism-friendly.