Empowering Kids, a local nonprofit working to help children and families with autism and other sensory needs, has started the Autism Aware Initiative to help make Perham a welcoming to those with sensory needs.

Now, a few partner business are needed to make the initiative a reality.

"We have many individuals and families coming into town and from town who have a hard time navigating things that the rest of us take for granted," said Tiffany Tobkin, Director of Programming at Empowering Kids.

While it would be ideal for all of Perham to have some sort of knowledge or training to be better prepared to help those with autism or other sensory needs, the initiative is looking to start off small by getting the four most-needed businesses on-board:

  • Retailer
  • Restaurant
  • Dentist
  • Hairstylist
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Then they will give those businesses the training and resources needed to get started.

"We are going to work with organizations in the community to make them more autism aware and sensory friendly," Tobkin said.

For shops and restaurants, being a welcoming place to those with sensory needs can bring in more teens, adults and families with autism and sensory needs, Tobkin said.

So far the Perham Area Public Library and Lakes Family Eyecare have become partners in the initiative. However, the need for a restaurant and a hairstylist still remains.

Tiffany Tobkin
Tiffany Tobkin

Empowering Kids has a process of helping the partnering businesses get started, Tobkin said. Its starts with a one-on-one meeting with the business owner or representative and talking about the expectations on both ends before coming up with a plan. Each plan is created to fit the business so that they can best accommodate the customer or perform their service.

Next comes educating the staff. Empowering Kids provides the business with a one-hour lunch training, for up to 20 employees, on how to make their business more sensory-friendly. Giving the staff a better understanding of what autism is and what it can look like, and how staff might interact with those who have autism.

Each business will receive a sensory kit tailored to their needs and space, Tobkin said. These kits include items such as different kinds of fidget and visual stimuli to help keep the kids' hands busy. Items such as noise-canceling headphones or weighted blankets would be in some kits. For places with waiting rooms, it could be different kinds of seating options to help make the experience easier for those with sensory needs. Participants will be given a window cling to show that they are a sensory-friendly business.

From "a human standpoint it does not just benefit autism, but anyone with anxiety, developmental delays and different disabilities," Tobkin said. "Just in general humans process visuals better than auditory. So when people can see what's going to come next it decreases anxiety for everyone."

Can you help?

Businesses and organizations who would like to be involved in the initiative should contact Tiffany Tobkin at tiff@empoweringkidsperham.org or 218-346-2322.