What Does Autism-Friendly Mean?

By sandra.caplesc…, 4 October, 2022
Child playing with jenga.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 59 children—unfortunately, the number keeps growing. It’s a condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate and how they perceive the world around them. Individuals with ASD are often overwhelmed by loud environments, bright lights, and crowded environments.

In today’s world, businesses and other places need to be autism-friendly to address the challenges children with autism face. The term autism-friendly is increasingly popular, from supermarkets to museum tours—and even cruises.

Yet what is autism-friendly? What does it mean? Is it the best way for some autistic families to engage in community experiences or not?

Discover the answer in this article.

What Is Autism-Friendly?

People with autism are different from one another since they experience autism symptoms in unique ways. It can be tough to define what autism-friendly means clearly. However, these types of environments do not help only autistic people; they can accommodate people with different diagnoses.

In theory, autism-friendly can be defined as being aware of social engagement and environmental factors affecting people on the autism spectrum and modifying the communication method and physical space to suit the individual’s unique needs better.

In short, autism-friendly means a venue is open to making changes and empowering people with ASD to participate in society. It also means you acknowledge that autistic people have already made many adjustments to deal with the outside world. It shows you are willing to make adjustments and include people with autism.

Issues Autism-Friendly Places Solve

Sensory Challenges

People with autism are hyper or hypo-sensitive to sensory input or show an unusual interest in some aspects of the environment. Autism-friendly environments help reduce volume levels, overlapping sounds, strong smells, bright lights, and other uncomfortable tactile experiences.

In exceptional cases, entire rooms are created specifically for people with sensory sensitivities. These spaces offer calming lights, colors, and sounds—and provide pleasant sensory experiences.

Read: 10 Sensory Room Ideas for Children with Autism.

Communication Challenges

Any individual on the spectrum has a communication challenge to some degree or another. Some autistic people are non-verbal, but others, while highly verbal, can’t follow complex speech. They might have difficulty processing body language, sarcasm, humor, and vocal intonations.

Autism-friendly places can help with communication challenges by:

  • Avoiding nuanced vocal tones or body language
  • Using picture boards to communicate
  • Customize the level, speed, and type of communication—and provide support as needed
  • Using written and spoken language to communicate
  • Making communication easier by using simple language

Routine and Predictability

Autistic people like routines and knowing what to expect. Many prefer constant routines; some even become upset when a routine is changed without notice. While autistic people can handle change, they do better if they have time to prepare.

An autism-friendly venue needs to provide opportunities in advance, explain expectations, provide consistency, and address potential concerns. For example, they can provide explanations through videos or social stories—and even have familiar people and food available.

Anxious Parents

Unfortunately, people judge. Many parents feel anxious that the broader community will judge their children with autism. They wonder if people stare—or what if their child will have a meltdown in public?

These factors might impede a family from participating in social activities. That’s why autism-friendly venues need to be judgment-free, where autistic families can enjoy the experience without facing criticism.

Continue Reading: How to Handle People That Judge Your Autistic Child.

Pros and Cons

You might wonder whether autism-friendly places are a good idea or not. The answer depends, but here are some pros and cons:


  • Allow parents to plan whole family outings and simplify the process.
  • It guarantees a friendly reception for autistic families.
  • It can be a nice source of making friendships among individuals with autism.
  • It provides an opportunity to introduce autistic people to places and activities without having to face sensory assaults.
  • Allows autistic people to experience something that might be inaccessible.


  • They might be more expensive than other events and community programs.
  • The autism-friendly places provide too many, too few, or the wrong accommodations for the autistic person.
  • The services can be offered rarely, at inconvenient times, and a distance.
  • It might establish reliance on autism-friendly programs.

How to Find Autism-Friendly Events

You can easily find autism-friendly events, so don’t be afraid to ask around. You’d be surprised. You can check these sources:

  • Ask a child’s therapist for recommendations
  • Ask friends with kids on the spectrum to see what worked for them
  • Call institutions that interest you and your child and ask if they have autism-specific programs available
  • Google searches for specific programs and institutions
  • You can use autism-focused databases such as Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network and Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

How to Decide What’s Right for You

Autism-friendly experiences might not be for everyone. So, to decide whether an autism-friendly experience is right for you, ask the following question of the organization you’re curious about:

  • Can parents be a part of the event? What kind of staffing is available, if not?
  • Does the staff have any training in autism?
  • What special accommodations does the business offer for people on the spectrum?
  • Will an autistic child’s sibling be welcome?
  • How long does the event run?
  • What can you expect when you arrive at the location?
  • How can you follow up if the child truly enjoys the experience?
  • What is the cost per person?
  • Does the business have a preview you can share with your child?

Why Should a Business Be Autism-Friendly?

It’s not only the right thing to do but also a good business practice. A business that is autism-friendly provides:

  • A user-friendly experience for a large demographic group since nearly 12 million people have autism. These people will engage in autism-friendly activities on a local and national level.
  • People that don’t have autism appreciate what the business is doing. They view the business as responsive and which cares about its community. This feature might lead people to select this business over non-autism rivals. The lower levels of noise and the dim lights also benefit non-autistic individuals.

How to Make Your Business Autism-Friendly

First of all, an autism-friendly business involves:

  • An environment that’s accepting of social differences and behaviors such as stimming.
  • Staff or participants who can meet your autistic child’s needs and understands the differences in autistic people.
  • A place with tolerable levels of sensory stimuli.
  • Successful reviews of the place by individuals with autism.
  • Visual aids such as checklists, sensory guides, or pictures.

Consider the Age Level of the Participants

Many restaurants and other venues focus their attention on the needs of autistic children. Most advertise “quiet hours” for parents of children with autism, even if adults with autism also should be included. The promotional material should indicate for whom the event is intended.

Adjust the Environment

Make sure to understand the sensory needs of autistic people. Softer lights make them feel more comfortable, and the pastel colors calm them. It’s good to have a predictable and consistent environment, preferably with an open space. Make sure not to use strong odors since autistic people are sensitive to smells. The place could also have navigation signs pointing to quiet areas where the autistic child can calm down.

Create a Quiet Area

Sometimes, excess noise or crowded places can overwhelm an autistic person. Some venues should have a dedicated quiet space where the child can unwind. You can use these lights to start building a calming space: 

Use Technology

Children with autism can feel more comfortable using technology than face-to-face contact. There are many apps that the child can use to self-check out or order food online.

Limit the Number of Attendees

Children with autism might become anxious in crowded places, so the event organizers should limit the number of attendees if possible.

Train the Staff

The business’s staff should undergo autism awareness training to be autism-friendly. Many autistic people feel exhausted by the need to mask their condition, so the company should help them feel like themselves.