Inside an Anova Kit

For families with children on the autism spectrum, dining out can be particularly challenging. To help families have a less stressful dining experience, Anova – a nonprofit for children with sensory and learning differences – is providing restaurants with sensory-friendly kits designed to prevent and minimize meltdowns.

“I came up the idea to launch a sensory-friendly restaurant initiative after hearing so many of the families we serve at Anova express that they often choose not to eat out at restaurants because of the challenges associated with sensory processing disorders,” Jackie Hadley, Anova’s manager of charitable development and community relations, said.

Anova’s kits were designed by occupational therapists and behavior analysts and include noise reduction earmuffs with disposable covers, a wipeable weighted lap pad, a visual motion toy and several sensory, stress, and fidget toys. The kits also include social stories in both English and Spanish and a mood zone chart with pictures for kids who are nonverbal or have trouble communicating. The kits are meant to be used during dining and then returned to the restaurant. All kits are provided free-of-charge to any customer who requests them.

Anova sensory-friendly kit

“Most people know that 1 in 68 children are affected by autism, but not many people realize that 1 in 20 children experience sensory processing disorders,” Hadley told The Mighty. “It is not just those with autism [who struggle] with being overwhelmed by different sensory stimuli such [as] touch, noise, smell, visual, etc., so we wanted to include something that helped in all those areas.”

Since the program’s launch in April, Anova’s sensory-friendly kits can be found at all 11 Mary’s Pizza Shack locations in Sonoma County, California, as well as Steele and Hops in Santa Rosa, California. Participating restaurants receive several complementary kits as well as sensory-friendly training videos and in-person training workshops.

According to Hadley, who checks in with the restaurants once a week, feedback from families and restaurant employees show the kits work. Among the program’s success stories are families coming in regularly for pizza night and special education field trips to Mary’s Pizza Shack.

Anova sensory-friendly kit

While Anova’s kits are currently only available in California-based restaurants, Hadley hopes to expand the program to restaurants beyond the state. “We would be thrilled if any additional restaurants decided to use our sensory kits or implement a program of their own,” she said. “We would be happy to provide the kits, help with sensory training, and offer guidance to successfully run the program.”

So far Hadley has received requests from Australia and the East Coast, as well as special education teachers in the in Novato and Sacramento, California, school districts. “The thought of the program expanding on a national scope and into classrooms would be awesome,” Hadley said. “Since we are a nonprofit, we would need to seek grant assistance to provide kits at that scale. However, we welcome the opportunity to assist whoever reaches out to us and will do what we can to contribute to a positive and collective impact in the world.”

Anova’s kits are not currently for sale, although the organization may make them available for purchase at a later date. Those interested in making their own sensory-friendly kit can learn how here.

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My name is Louis Scarantino. I have autism, and I have had a lot of unexpected things happen in my life. This story is about one unexpected thing in particular that happened to me.

During the 2015 to 2016 NBA season, I wrote a letter to the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr, because he wore an autism puzzle piece pin while coaching a game to support autism awareness. It was the greatest season in the history of the NBA franchise Golden State Warriors, as they broke the win and loss record during the regular season that year. I wrote to him after seeing a photo on Facebook of him wearing the autism awareness puzzle piece pin he wore while coaching a game during autism awareness month, which is in April of every year. The photo was shown on one of the autism pages I follow on Facebook. I felt I had nothing to lose by writing to him, so I decided to take a chance.

I told him thank you for supporting the cause while coaching the team on their incredible season that year. He wrote back to me a bit later saying this. I couldn’t wait to open it. It was a Golden State Warriors card with the logo on it.

Hi Louis,

Thanks for your nice note, I really appreciate it! I am glad to stand up for Autism Awareness and you should be proud of the work you’re doing too. Thank you for supporting the Warriors!

All the best,
Steve Kerr

White card with Golden State Warriors logo (a yellow bridge over a blue background) on it

Handwritten note from Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr

I was grateful to get a response from a famous person I wrote a letter to regarding the cause. It was the first time in my life that I ever received a response after writing a letter to a famous person. It felt like there are people in sports that don’t only care about glory and money. Some care about fans, causes in the world, and other things too. It also meant a lot that the response was handwritten instead of typed and signed at the end. It made me feel like it had a lot of meaning when he wrote it. I never expected to receive this, and this is actually the third time in my life that I’ve had a moment involving a famous person. I’m telling other people with autism to reach out to the people you admire. They might write back and give you a response I got.


Dear Employers,

Employment is a key topic in our autism community, especially since young adults with autism have “lower employment rates,” according to an NPR story.

Many of the young adults who I know are highly intelligent and could succeed in the workforce, but sometimes they face challenges when it comes to social and interpersonal skills.

One of those challenges starts with the first time you meet with a prospective employer during a job interview. For me, this is often the most challenging part of finding a job as a person on the autism spectrum. Having to maintain eye contact for a long period of time made me feel extremely anxious, and sometimes I froze during a question I didn’t anticipate.

I’ve had other interviews where there were multiple people in the room interviewing me back and forth. It made me feel like I was being interrogated at times. And don’t even get me started on group interviews with multiple candidates in the room.

While I appreciate that the interview process may help you find the best candidate for openings where communication and teamwork are vital, I think other jobs that are more focused on singular projects may not necessarily need a formal interview.

When I give talks to employers about my personal experiences on finding employment, I often recommend that you conduct a one-day job training session instead of an interview to see if the candidate can actually do the job. So instead of having candidates “talk the talk,” so to speak, they can actually “walk the walk” to show you why they deserve a shot at your company.

Because at the end of the day, you want to find the best employees possible who will bring the most to your company. If you are reading this letter today, I can tell you that I know some amazing people with autism who can be just that with the right supports. This isn’t something I’d encourage for just your potential employees with autism but for all of your employees as well.

You may be surprised from what you see when you give them this opportunity.

Sincerely,

Kerry

For those with autism reading this, you may not always get the opportunity to do a one-day job training. Because of that,  I recommend you read over this step-by-step guide on how to succeed in a job interview provided by JobTIPS and Autism Speaks here.

This guide will give you a blueprint to succeed on everything from how to
prep before the interview, what to remember during the day of the interview and
the follow-up work you should do after the interview.

For those looking for employment opportunities, Autism Speaks has also started TheSpectrumCareers.com, a new jobs portal designed to help find employment opportunities for those on the autism spectrum.

If I can ever be a soundboard, you can always contact me via my Facebook Fan Page here as well.

This post first appeared on KerryMagro.com.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


Does your child hate loud noises but is also the loudest child you know?

If so you may be able to relate very well to my own personal story of growing up on the autism spectrum.

As a kid due to my sensory issues I would have issues with different sensations and bright lights. The one issue though that topped them all was noise. Growing up in a big city in the tri-state area, noises would always send me into sensory overload.

It could be anything. A car horn. An ambulance siren. Someone talking loudly outside. It didn’t matter.

And when those times would come, especially around the time I was diagnosed with autism at 4, I would scream as loud as I possibly could as a way to cope. Most of the time when I screamed I thought that would make all the noises around me stop. It wouldn’t be until a few years later though that an occupational therapist would help me learn to control my screams and my anger.

Later, when I started school I’d also have a title of being “the loudest kid in school” because of my inability to understand the difference between inside and outside voices. Whispering was a foreign language to me. My whispering was talking normally and me talking normally was speaking with an elevated pitch that would echo around the classroom.

One of my saving graces when I couldn’t understand this was my love of entertainment. Being able to watch films where people were talking softly at one time and loudly at another gave me the opportunity to mirror that behavior. I turned that into a great love for the theater. Roleplaying different scenes helped me find that balance in my own voice. By the time I started doing plays when I was 10 it became second nature.

My transformation from being one of the loudest people I knew to who I am today was created through the supports I was given thanks to my parents and my therapists. I know many children and even adults on the spectrum who still struggle with sensory issues and understanding pitch and tone.

If this is something you or a loved on struggles with, I’d love to suggest theater or music therapy to help. Also consider supports to help someone cope with their sensory issues. This can be anything from social stories to help with transitioning to noise cancelling headphones to help with sounds.

At the end of the day, progress should be our #1 goal. I can project when I need to but am mostly a quiet kid from Jersey today who loves concerts and blasting my music whenever I can with minimal sensory issues.

A version of this blog appeared on KerryMagro.com.

Image via Thinkstock.


It’s happened again this week. A post about a child with autism has gone viral. A mum posted on Facebook, and that post has been reported on all over the world (well I’ve seen it in America, the U.K. and Holland). My best friend sent me an app with the link, asking, “Have you seen this?” (I love her!) I hadn’t seen it, but when I did my heart sank a little bit… (If you haven’t read the piece, you can see the BBC version here.)

Posts like this always make me feel sad and disappointed because they appeal to the journalistic culture of pity or fear.

Firstly, my heart went out to this mother — how hard it must have been for her to know her son ate lunch alone, every day. But… where were the caring staff at school to support this child? Lunch times in a large space with lots of people are bound to be difficult for a child on the autism spectrum. Why wasn’t he being given more support?

Secondly, I applaud the mother of the football player, as she has obviously raised a kind, caring, intelligent young man. He saw a boy eating alone, sat with him and talked with him. But this is just a story about a man showing kindness. Why are we applauding his kindness? My husband shows kindness every single day — that is why I fell in love with him. In fact, today he helped a lady in a wheelchair. Thousands of people — therapists, doctors, teachers, etc. — work with our children and show amazing kindness too, but it isn’t front page news. Is it news because this football player is somewhat famous?

I am happy that the boy now has friends to eat lunch with, but it makes me sad that it took one famous adult to let them see the boy for who he really is. To get them to look beyond the awkwardness, the hand flapping, to really see him. Another case where autism awareness has not lead to acceptance.

When my nana, died my brother gave the eulogy, and he began with something that has sat with me ever since: “Her life was one filled with small kindnesses.”

Amazing, pure, simple and true. My nana was a beautiful woman, happy, fun but above all kind. It makes me sad to think we live in a world where many people have forgotten this simple message. If anything, this story demonstrates how one small kindness can have an enormous impact! But is kindness so rare that it deserves to be reported worldwide?

So, my friends, within your busy day, pause and think, and if you get the opportunity, please perform one small act of kindness. Raise your children to see kindness as the norm, not as a special action to be applauded. And think before you share…

I will not be sharing posts that prey on our pity or fear. I will instead share a store of the amazing athlete Mikey Brannigan, who ran the 1500m in less than 4 minutes in qualifying for the Paralympics. Oh, and he also happens to have autism. Did you hear about that? Good luck to all athletes taking part in the Rio Paralympics.


I’m not a “supermom,” but I get called that a lot. Having a child with autism does not make me one. Please let me feel weak sometimes and let me cry. Let me make mistakes and let my guard down. Let me just be a mom, a wife, a woman, not a “super-someone.”

The day my son Vedant was diagnosed with autism, it felt like life handed me a cape and said, “Now you fight and never stop doing so.” But there are days when I’m exhausted and wish that never again should a mom have to fight for what is rightly her child’s and hope that the world will be more sensitive to any child who has challenges.

For once, to the person who snatched my son’s straw away, all I want to say is, “Please be considerate. It’s my son’s sensory toy. It keeps him calm in a crowded bus full of noisy kids.” Some days, I don’t want to cry out loud and ask him to go educate himself on autism.

Instead of telling that teenager not to pity my son when I tell her he has autism, I wish the school and society taught her better and told her that autism has its strengths, too. I am tired of explaining that autism is not the end of the world — it’s just a different world. No, I’m not a supermom. I feel run-down every now and then.

Sometimes all I hope is that the mom waiting in that lobby was more sensitive. My son simply wanted to be friendly with her child, and that is why he came so close. He did not hurt her or scare her. Let her learn about interacting with people who are different. Let her learn to be accommodating. I don’t want to stand on a podium and explain to her the importance of inclusion.

There are days when I don’t want to put up a fight every time someone shows me that the society is still not ready to co-exist with a child with autism.

Occasionally, when things get overwhelming, I feel like quitting, and I don’t want to feel guilty about that thought. I need that weakness in me. I want those cracks so my pain can find a way out.

There are days when sifting through all the therapies that haven’t worked makes me want to suspend my optimism and cry. Just plain cry for fear about the future. Occasionally I want to complain.

Just for once, I too want to go to concerts, movies, and date nights; to attend parties, stay out late, and take a break. For a change, I want someone to have my back.

I wish it were a world where you were not forced to be a fighter, a supermom, and a constant advocate if you have a child with autism. If anyone is a warrior and has superpowers, it’s my son — not me. He is a super-kid.

Follow this journey on Tulika’s blog.

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