Support. This one word can open up the world to someone who feels isolated, lonely, and forgotten. This word bears so much weight in its seven letters that a plethora of feelings emerge when someone realizes that they have it. The Village of Rhinebeck, New York has become an Autism Supportive Community, one of just a few official locations.
This initiative started when officials from the Anderson Center for Autism approached Rhinebeck mayor, Gary Bassett, with the desire to create the Autism Supportive Community Committee. This collaboration instantly took-off with the idea of approaching local businesses for assistance. Katy Kollar tells WAMC, “The hashtag for this Rhinebeck Supportive Community was #justonething. And that’s all we were asking the businesses to do.” The idea was that the businesses would receive all the training and tools needed to become an accommodating haven for individuals on the autism spectrum.
Mayor Bassett did not want the businesses to radically change their stores, he wanted them to become more inclusive by doing one act of kindness. As Mayor Bassett tells WAMC, “do one simple act of kindness, whether it’s lowering your lights, having a sensory kit, to make that available so when somebody comes in, they know that they’re supportive.” This inclusive environment pledge is known through the display of a supportive sticker on the businesses’ windows. Mayor Bassett tells WAMC, “as a result of their pledges, they got a sticker to put on their door so when people are walking through the village, they see that this store, this business is supportive of autism awareness…and if they go in there they’re going to get the help that they need.”
Residents have recalled that even before the pledge, many businesses were already supportive and inclusive towards people with disabilities. Kollar tells WAMC, “A number of places in town were already pretty familiar with autism and Anderson.” She goes on to explain that when her son goes to their favorite pizza shop, Village Pizza, the people know his order by heart. They understand his behaviors and habits and “were always welcoming right from the very beginning.”
Rhinebeck has become an excellent example of how involving the community in organizing safe places for individuals on the autism spectrum allows everyone to better appreciate one another. Kathleen Marshall, the director of program services at the Anderson Center for Autism, who lead educational supportive forums in Rhinebeck tells WAMC, “they [Rhinebeck] have established a sensory safe space…they’re building it into their infrastructure, which is so important because he’s [Mayor Bassett] thinking about sustainability of this.” Many want to start expanding this pledge to other communities in hopes that people become more conscious and knowledgeable to those on the autism spectrum. Rhinebeck Sergeant Peter Dunn has experienced how this pledge has helped the police force. He recalls that everyone in the police force underwent training, obtained certification, and had implemented the use of sensory kits which greatly helped them during one incident, a car accident, where the headphones from the sensory kit provided comfort for a child on the autism spectrum when the surrounding noise became too much.
Rhinebeck is evolving and spreading its influence on other communities. Many hope to expand this supportiveness to others and have Rhinebeck serve as a model for the country. As Rhinebeck has established, just one act of kindness can generate profound results.