Attractions Welcome Children with Autism


Visiting places in the community such as a hockey game, the opera, or the zoo may be difficult for many families of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Children diagnosed with ASDs may communicate, interact, behave and learn in ways that are different from most other people. They may also have challenges with social, emotional and communication skills.

But in Middle Tennessee, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) is partnering with some of the most visited attractions in the region in an effort to help these families feel comfortable navigating their own community.

TRIAD’s Organizational Engagement Program works with organizations like sports teams, zoos, museums, theaters, libraries and the opera to offer community involvement opportunities for children with ASDs. TRIAD helps these organizations provide resources that make their venues more ASD-friendly and inclusive to all persons with developmental disabilities.

Partner organizations also receive training on how to interact with kids with autism and guidance on “sensory-friendly” practices such as dimmer lights, quiet break rooms and less noise overall.

The Organizational Engagement Program develops “social stories” for potentially challenging situations, such as waiting in line, so parents of children with autism can prepare them for a visit to the location. Social stories are available in English and Spanish, in versions with pictures and in varying language levels.

Current TRIAD Community Partners include Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Nashville Opera, Nashville Public Library, Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC), YMCA of Middle Tennessee, the Nashville Predators and Vanderbilt University athletic teams.

Another program in TRIAD’s Community Engagement Initiative is Families First, a free training opportunity for parents of young children recently diagnosed with an ASD. Through Families First, TRIAD gives parents and caregivers a solid foundation with practical behavioral tools and strategies to support their children. With a typical workshop attendance of 30 to 50 participants, Families First has served approximately 3,000 parents and other caregivers since the program began. TRIAD now hosts Families First workshops nine to 12 times a year on a variety of related subjects.

Screening for ASDs

Signs of ASDs begin during childhood and last throughout adulthood. The state of Tennessee encourages all parents and caregivers to take the first step in identifying developmental concerns by screening your child for ASDs, such as autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and Asperger’s syndrome.

In the U.S., 13 percent of children ages 3 to 17 have a developmental or behavioral disability such as autism. Well-child visits allow your doctor and nurses to have regular contact with your child to monitor his or her health and development through developmental screening. A developmental screening is a short test to tell if your child is learning basic skills when he or she should, or if there are delays. Early detection and intervention can improve long-term child development.


For more information on the Organizational Engagement Program, visit the TRIAD’s Online Resources Directory or email

For more information on upcoming Organizational Engagement Program events, check the events calendar on the TRIAD website.

Learn more about Families First, TRIAD’s workshop for parents of young children (ages 2-5) newly diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Get a list of signs of ASD and in-depth information on screening.

Find more resources for families of children with ASDs and developmental disabilities.