BOLIVAR, Mo. – Bolivar in southwest Missouri has proclaimed itself as an “Autism Friendly City”. The designation means the city commits to training its employees, businesses, churches, schools, and daycares about autism.
Angel Haun helped to launch Autism Awareness in Polk County, a support and social group for parents and autistic individuals. She says autism is often considered an invisible disability. To counter that, she is working on making autism visible understood and accepted. Her 14-year-old son Braden is on the spectrum.
“They are not odd. They want to be included. They want to have friends,” she says. “Being a rural community, we did not have a lot of resources.”
She took her efforts a step further and helped Bolivar to become an Autism Friendly City.
Bolivar Mayor Christopher Warwick anticipates long-term impact for the entire community.
“In the ten to 15-year-term of those folks coming into the workforce, or just being a citizen here,” he says.
Elizabeth Obrey is the vice president of STARS, “Service, Training, Awareness, Respects and Support,” an autism organization in Battlefield. In 2014, the city near Springfield became the first Autism Friendly Community in Missouri.
“To become autism-friendly you have to know what autism is and what it means,” says Obrey. “If you are going to have to travel to a sensory-friendly event and you have to travel a half an hour there and then a half an hour back. Families shouldn’t have to leave their hometown to feel welcome.”
The goal is inclusion, helping families find services and support right at home.
“One of my hopes is that we are not going to get the stares that we do when we have a meltdown at Walmart because they are out of our favorite peanut butter,” says Haun.
Bolivar is one of three U.S. cities calling itself an Autism Friendly City. Haun, Obrey and Mayor Warwick hope their commitment is the beginning of a snowball effect of autism awareness in Missouri.
By Jennifer Abreu of Springfield television station KOLR