Shopping. Getting a haircut. Going to a movie theatre.
For most people, these activities are simple. Yet for people with sensory issues, some of these everyday things can be challenging.
Treshana Gosse, regional assistant manager at Autism Society’s Eastern Regional office in Clarenville, says for families of people on the autism spectrum, one of the challenges as they navigate everyday life is finding service providers who understand their challenges and can accommodate the sensitivities of the autistic person.
Thankfully, she says, there are many businesses in Clarenville who are “doing it right’ when it comes to autism inclusion.
Dr. Jon Ballard is one of them, she says.
For an individual with sensory sensitives, the sound of whirring instruments, the bright lights, the strong tastes and smells, and the pain that sometimes accompanies some procedures can make a trip to the dentist a nightmare.
Ballard, who’s been practicing dentistry in Clarenville since 2013, says when dealing with patients with autism, he often uses a “tell-show-do” method; explaining the procedure to the child and using a doll or toy to show them the procedure before starting.
For some patients, he says, the first visit with him may simply be to get the patient familiar with both the office and himself.
“At the end of the day, people require the treatment, we need to provide it, but we just have to take the right approach,” he said. “We just need to be comfortable with people’s needs and sensitivities.
“Patience is probably the most important thing.”
Rachelle Duval agrees.
The local hairstylist says she has about 10 clients with some degree of autism or sensory sensitivity.
She says sometimes accommodating the sensitivity might be as simple as being very gentle brushing hair, or turning the music down in the salon.
“I think it’s just being patient, and building trust,” she said, noting one young client required seven or eight appointments with her over a six-month period before allowing Duval to give her a haircut.
Barbara Reid’s 13-year-old son Elliott is one of Duval’s clients.
Elliott has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. His mother notes the disorder affects individuals differently.
“Some friends that I’ve talked to, if they’re taking their child somewhere new, they can’t tell them about it until the last minute, or they’ll be too anxious, whereas Elliott, is the opposite,” she said. “If I don’t tell him and build him up for a new experience before we go and he doesn’t know what to expect, then he gets anxious about it as we’re going.”
She says Duval helps the routine of a haircut go well for Elliott.
“A lot of it is her patience,” she said. “She’s very easygoing, and very reassuring.”
Whatever the circumstance, or the disorder, Reid says, ultimately, patience is key.
“There’s a lot of different individuals with a lot of different exceptionalities in the community… they’re working, or shopping, or visiting coffee shops, doing whatever,” she noted. “And sometimes, it’s just having that extra bit of patience.”
Another local business that caters to those with sensory issues is Clarenville Twin Cinemas.
About twice a year they have sensory sensitive screenings, said manager and co-owner Clarence Russell.
Those special screenings include lowering the film’s volume and just dimming the lights, as opposed to shutting them off completely.
“Some of the adults have told me it’s the first time they’ve been to a theatre together (as a family),” he told The Packet.
While those special showings may draw a smaller audience—20 to 40 patrons—Russell says it’s worth it to gift a night out to a family that may not be able to come out to the traditional screenings.
This past summer, the Clarenville Public Library received a $10,000 grant to renovate the children’s section to be more inclusive.
“The idea is to expand the area and put in a sensory wall, some new furniture (and) some mobile shelving for the books,” librarian Tanya Blackmore told The Packet in August.
She hopes the renovations and new programs will mean more patrons will be able to enjoy the library.
Gosse says it’s gestures like these — big or small — that make the difference for families and individuals.
“They have moved mountains to make sure the needs are meet,” she said, adding the local Autism branch is always willing to work with local businesses to improve inclusion and accessibility.
“I think there’s always an opportunity to create more accessibility. Any business, any organization can reach out to us,” she said. “We’re happy to brainstorm.”
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