Autism Spectrum Partnering Network Finds Resources For Local Families

The many sounds of the grocery store. You may hear them, but chances are they wont bother you. You're too focused on buying what you need, and getting out of there. But for someone living on the Autism spectrum, bright lights and loud sounds can be a nightmare.

"I'm hearing all of that at once. I can't seem to filter any of it out and ignore most of it," says Mark McDonald, a forty-three year old who is diagnosed with Aspergers.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that comes in many forms. These disorders can affect one's ability to interact and communicate. But what many don't realize is that people with Autism are extremely sensitive to light and sound. Which can turn shopping for basic necessities into a daunting task. 

"Sometime's I just don't go shopping for weeks at a time," McDonald said.

He describes a visit to the grocery or department store, like an exhausting sporting match where he, the opponent, is constantly defeated.

"If I'm already tired if I'm already hurting if I'm already having a bad day, I see something like this and go, it's not worth it, and go home," said Mcdonald.

"It's overwhelming," Says Sarah Collins.

Collins doesn't have Autism but her nine year old daughter Phoebe does. For years a trip to the store meant a meltdown from Phoebe, and stares from other parents.

"At first, when you're trying to deal with that diagnosis and you feel the shame from other people and the stares when that child is having a meltdown," explains Collins. "You're wishing you could do something and not wanting to disrupt their experience at the store, but yet feeling for your child at the same time".

Collins says she felt lost in a world of unknown after Phoebe was diagnosed. She's now the brainchild behind Reach For A Difference, a community action group she founded one year ago.
The goal, is to provide a roadmap to resources for people in the area living with Autism, and their families. 

"We're not looking for a cure," Collins said. "We are looking for help today. We're looking for resources now and what can we do today to help our children."

Aside from providing support and direction for these families, Collins, McDonald and several others are proposing an idea to grocery and department stores. They're asking for some small changes that will make a big difference.

"The idea is just to have a small refuge place," said McDonald. 

"This place would be different, it would be dimly lit. It might have a fish aquarium, it might have a bubble lamp, maybe even some soft, relaxing music," said Collins. "Just a place where they can go to relax, it doesn't have to be a big expense."

And, going back to that sports analogy, even the worlds greatest athletes can't play a full game without a water break.

"Just because you have played as hard as you can and you're exhausted doesn't mean to want to stop playing," said McDonald. "It means, I need to take a break, take five minutes, catch my break and get ready to go again."

While it may take some time, this team is determined to build that roadmap to resources, and make some meaningful differences along the way. 

"That's what reach for a difference is about. We're action teams and we find where the biggest struggles are for these families," said Collins.

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