“It’s a lonely place when you’re neurologically different,” Graham said. “Even the highest functioning (on the autism spectrum) need to be cared for in a way that’s helpful, not condescending.”
Graham was diagnosed with autism when she was 45. She said awareness is important because while many parents make a point to help their children who are on the spectrum, it’s easy for undiagnosed adults to slip through the cracks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 1 in 68 children are affected by autism, making it the most common developmental disability.
For Autism Awareness Month in April, the Town of Chapel Hill coordinated several events for the autistic community. The last event will be a sensory-friendly playtime on April 27 at Kidzu Children’s Museum.
“We want the museum to be a safe space — that’s the point,” said Sydney Lewis, coordinator of the playtime at Kidzu. “So (those on the spectrum) can explore the museum without a sensory overload of a lot of children.”
The playtime event at Kidzu is free to any children with special needs, but families must register beforehand. There will only be 30 spots in order to regulate the extra stimulation found during a typically busy hour at a museum.
“We’re hoping for a good turnout,” Lewis said. “Getting out to the special needs community is important.”
There will be three stations at the playtime: a sensory activity where children dig to find jewels, a gross motor activity of a rock climbing wall and a fine motor activity of putting together fake food parents order. There will also be book nooks for children to calm down if the event becomes overwhelming.