In our hectic world, people on the autism spectrum often face a danger of sensory overload. Autreats is a program that provides a reprieve, and a safe space for people on the spectrum to gather.
A loud, bright world
From advertisements to traffic lights, we're frequently surrounded by bright lights and loud sounds. As a result, people with autism -- who often have strong responses to visual, auditory, or olfactory stimulation -- are in constant battle with feeling overloaded and stressed.
Autreats, then, seeks to relieve this struggle by providing a retreat from the hectic world for people on the spectrum, allowing a safe space for them to gather and interact. Through several ground rules, participants are protected from being assaulted by overwhelming noises, sights, and smells. Because autism is on a spectrum, there are an array of diverse symptoms, and Autreats' rules cast a wide net to make sure everyone feels safe.
Creating a safe space
Autreats were founded in 1996, with nearly 60 participants from all across the autism spectrum. The initial pilot program was held in a remote spot in New York, secluded from towns to avoid sensory overload.
The group at this first Autreat was as diverse as the autism spectrum itself. They ranged from non-speaking adults who used letter boards to communicate, to an urban planner who worked at the Los Angeles International Airport, to famous photographer Dan Asher, who chronicled the early days of punk and reggae in New York City.
Preventing sensory overload
To prevent sensory overload, Autreats restricts all photography without permission. Participants are not allowed to wear perfumes or smoke cigarettes, preventing overpowering smells.
Personal boundaries are to be respected as well. In fact, each attendee is given a badge that details how much or how little the person was willing to speak and interact with others. This ensures that everyone knows one another's boundaries, and prevents any misunderstandings or complications.
Autreats has proven to be an immensely successful program, with similar retreats expanding into Europe as well. By allowing people on the spectrum to be carefree and not constrainted by a hectic, judgemental world, it provides people with a way to be themselves and flourish.
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