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MMA Innovation Award winner, From The Beacon, February 2017
As awareness of autism spectrum disorders increases, the Leominster Autism Project works to ensure that children and their parents are able to go shopping, visit the dentist office, and other tasks that others may take for granted as routine.
Sensory sensitivity, communication and social interaction impairments are some of the symptoms and behaviors that people with autism spectrum disorders can have — all of which can pose difficulties to the tasks of daily life.
To make the city more inclusive, Leominster began with trainings, lectures and workshops given by the Fire Department, and partnered with local businesses and social centers to help services and businesses within the city become more accommodating to those on the autism spectrum.
A certification system provides trainings and individual consultations for Leominster businesses, leading to an accommodation plan for businesses. The Leominster Autism Project keeps a directory of participating retail locations, health care centers, restaurants and other businesses on its website, and those businesses display a sticker with the project logo, so that families know who has a plan in place for customers with a sensory or cognitive disorder.
Mayor Dean Mazzarella said the program has worked out “beyond our expectations” and pointed to the participation of stores in The Mall at Whitney Field as an example.
“They’ve trained everybody at the mall, and we have a pretty good-sized mall,” Mazzarella said. “It helps when you’re bringing a child in to get their haircut or anything else. It has also created a bit of a business cluster, because word gets around about a particular dentist or someone who’s really patient with the kids in the store, and they become the go-to people.”
For more information, contact Mayor Dean Mazzarella’s office at (978) 534-7500 or email AutismProject@Leominster-ma.gov.