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Tom's Drawing Board provides inclusive events specifically for families with autism


Story By Meghan Mamlock
Local News Published 04/13/2021 5:45PM, Last Updated 04/13/2021 6:19PM
Rhinelander - April is Autism Awareness Month and one business is creating inclusive events specifically for those on the autism spectrum in the Northwoods.

Back in 2019, Tom's Drawing Board became the Northwoods first Autism Friendly Certified business.

Owner Tom Barnett has sensory toys and noise canceling headphones among other things to assist the autistic participants in being able to enjoy their time creating art without having sensory overload. 

One of the many art classes Barnett provides is painting, allowing the autistic participants to use the sense of touch however they feel comfortable.

"Pour the paint on there, dump it on there, put your hands in there, slap it around cause all of that is sensory stuff. Just the feeling of the paint moving across the canvas and they have such a good time with that because they can just create," said Barnett.

Holidays can be especially difficult for children on the autism spectrum. Events with loud noises, bright lights, and big groups causing some of them to miss out on activities like Lights of the Northwoods and even an Easter egg hunt.

"We came up with the opportunity to provide a quiet place for autistic children who have that sensory overload to visit with Santa Claus without all the noise and disruptions that come with you know a big event like that," said Barnett. 

Anna Kania,  President of the Autism Society-Central Wisconsin, has seen an increase in businesses hiring people on the autism spectrum. However, Kania says, there is still more to be done.


"Autism Society for sure is doing that. A lot of the job boards and chamber of commences are actively looking at different ways to be more inclusive with their hiring practices. And then healthcare and school are fighting for this as well," said Kania.

Everybody just wants to be included and respected no matter their challenges or abilities.

"Being autistic in a world designed for neurotypical people is not easy. Education, communication and even environments aren't designed for the way an autistic mind works. So the autism friendly communities initiative was really created to help address these differences," said Kania.

If you would like to get involved you can contact the Autism Society of America's website for more information. 
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