Autism Friendly Place Program

‘AUTISM FRIENDLY PLACE’ PROGRAM

ABOUT THE “AUTISM FRIENDLY PLACE” PROGRAM

What is the “Autism Friendly Place” Program?

The AHWB Association Incorporated is working hard so that anyone with autism should be able to be openly autistic without judgement or stigmatisation.

Much of the time, the focus is on providing strategies for people with autism to change their behaviour. For example, therapies are carried out to try and limit behaviours such as humming, rocking back and forth or flapping hands.

Additionally, many judgements are made when children with autism meltdown in public places – some parents report they have strangers approach them to tell them they should try harder in disciplining their child.

The “Autism Friendly Place” (AFP) Program is all about educating businesses, retail stores, office workplaces and other organisations on what autism means and that simple changes to the environment can be made to support children, teenagers and adults with autism along with carers.

Special note: of course there are many with autism that go about their daily activities without difficulty and will not feel the need to visit an AFP. The AFP program is directed towards those with autism who experience sensory and communication challenges and need support in getting out and about.

How did the idea come about?

Amanda Curtis ran Melbourne’s very first autism Expo in 2015. When she finally had time to sit down for a coffee, she noticed a distinctly calm atmosphere despite hundreds of people moving about the Exhibitor stands.

Amanda realised that by promoting the Expo as an autism friendly event, and having supports in place on the day, anxiety about attending the event was removed. Parents came to the event knowing that if their child had a meltdown, they would be supported and that there would be people there to assist.

It was after the Expo that the “Autism Friendly Place” idea was born. People should be able to be a part of a community without the stress and anxiety of being misunderstood. It is simple really – if parents can take their children out to a cafe without all the stress and anxiety about impending meltdowns before leaving the house, then the whole family is less stressed and a meltdown may be less likely to occur!

How does it work?

If you see the AFP sticker or sign in a window, it means that it is a place where the staff know what autism means and will assist you if you need a quiet space for a bit. Or, if you show your AHWB Association member card, they may serve you more quickly as they know that the reason you show the card is that you are feeling overwhelmed as a person with autism or a carer.

Some places offer differing levels of support – see the table below.

How to become an “Autism Friendly Place”?

Training is very simple and the steps are:

  1. An AHWB Association trained member will meet with the manager of the business/store/organisation to explain what autism means and what staff can do to support people with autism
  2. The manager is given an “About Autism” Information Pack and needs to ensure all staff read the materials, or in very large organisations, has to put up a poster about autism in the staff room and ensure all employees read the poster.
  3. The manager needs to make sure that all staff understand that some people with autism will be issued with an AHWB Association member card, and if this card is ever shown to staff, it means that the person is feeling overwhelmed and either needs a quiet area in the place to be directed to, or if they are waiting to be served that they need to be served quicker and move forward in the line if they are in queue.

At the completion of training, AFP stickers and signs will be given to the place to display for the public – the logo is the same as the AFP Program button from the homepage and is also shown in the header on this page.

We all know that for successful change management to occur in any organisation it needs to come from the top!

And that is why we do not meet with anyone else but the business owner or manager OR the manager of front line staff. There are some cases where owners do not frequent the business much at all so it’s more appropriate to meet with the manager of frontline staff.

Autism Friendly Shopping Centres

To become an “Autism Friendly Shopping Centre” we need Director and Management on board. We meet with management to outline a plan of rolling out the AFP to stores.

The following criteria applies to be certified as an Autism Friendly Shopping Centre:

  1. Director/Management involvement
  2. At least 65% of stores at the centre need to go through the training process
  3. Shopping centre staff to be trained (cleaners, security, ground staff, maintenance etc)

We understand that it’s not possible for every single store to become accredited. Some stores have very high turnover of staff and it may be impossible to ensure all staff read the information packs etc. Other store owners work very long hours and do not have the time to be trained and be part of the program.

Accreditation is given when at least 65% of stores/organisations undergo training to understand autism and improve the environment so that visitors to the shopping centre to know there are plenty of retailers/organisations to turn to for support when required.

How are “Autism Friendly Places” audited?

1. The AHWB Association member will check in with the AFP every six months to ensure standards are met

2. We also need the public – you- to provide us with feedback on places that are part of the AFP Program

The steps involved if we receive any negative feedback on an AFP are:

  1. We contact the AFP and guide them on what can be changed for improvement
  2. If we receive a second complaint, we contact the place again and work to support them on being an AFP
  3. If we receive a third complaint about the same place we cancel that place’s involvement in the program.

NOTE: Every place that is accredited in the AFP is listed in the below table. If you visit a place that has the AFP sticker or sign and it is not listed in the table below, it means that the place has not been accredited by the AHWB Association Inc. Please contact us by clicking here to let us know if this is the case.

A big NO to negative feedback on social media!

Please understand the “Autism Friendly Place” Program is a bold and new concept. Businesses DO NOT have to participate. Businesses are participating because they want to support the autism community.

Our experience, so far, in training places are:

  • Many businesses owners/managers work 14 – 16 hour days and are exhausted, and yet have taken this program on because they want to help
  • All businesses could not spare more than half an hour to learn about autism. They were so busy running their business, yet they wanted to know more so that’s why we limit training to half an hour, any longer and no training could take place at all!
  • Large stores can have one hundred or more employees and it may take some time to have all staff read the materials and understand how they can support people with autism and carers. In some cases it can take six months to have all staff read the information!
  • A common issue is the turnover of staff in workplaces. This means the owner/manager needs to ensure the new staff are across the AFP Program, which can be difficult when there are so many other areas of a business to look after
  • When we carried out training, many stores/businesses owners/managers had heard of the word autism, but had no idea what it meant. We can only go over the basics about autism – it is impossible to fully explain what autism is within half an hour – so AFP Places will be learning more as they meet more people with autism.
  • Volunteer translators were recruited for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) business owners. Owners train their staff in their spoken language. Sometimes it is difficult for these business owners to find the exact words to convey the right meaning in their own language. We cannot guarantee the translations that have taken place, the cost of hiring a professional translator and translating materials is very costly, we cannot afford to do this yet for every language, and will be working hard in this area so more support is in place for our CALD AFP’s!

The main thing is that there is a shift happening, businesses and other organisations are coming on board to learn about autism!

If an AFP exceeds your expectations – let the world know! If there is ever a situation where an AFP does not live up to your expectations then let us know.

We request that you do NOT post any negative experiences on any of our AFP’s on social media or other public forums. This could bring the program down and discourage businesses from taking part.

There is a Code of Conduct in being a member of the AHWB Association and we’d request all users (members and non-members) of our services follow this, and it can be found by clicking here.

Tell us a the AHWB Association Inc. so that we can work with the place and improve services for our autism community.

Contact us at enquiries@ahwbassociation.org

How can a business sign up to be an “Autism Friendly Place”?

Simply by contacting us:

Email: enquiries@ahwbassociation.org
Telephone: 1300 784 417

Do you often visit a particular cafe, clothing store, bakery, or other business that you think should join the AFP Program? Then tell them to contact us, or let us know and we’ll make contact and invite them to join.

Is there a cost to be an Autism Friendly Place?

It costs $250* per small business (under five staff) to become an AFP. There is a renewal cost of $30 per year, per business/location to remain in the program.

As part of the AFP Program package, businesses will receive:

  • Half hour training or up to an hour upon request**
  • Window stickers or signs (shown in the header on this page) so that customers can immediately see that the business supports people with autism.
  • A jpeg version of the AFP logo that can be proudly published on the business’s website and Facebook page
  • Assistance to compile a social story for the business
  • Telephone support service from 8am – 7pm every day
  • A listing on the AFP Program website with a link for direct click through to the business’s website
  • Mention on the AHWB Association’s Facebook page. We welcome news and updates from businesses so we can post these on the page.
  • Automatic membership to the AHWB Association Inc which includes free autism information sessions held during the year that staff from the AFP can attend and a twice yearly email newsletter
  • Recognition by people with autism, carers, extended family – anyone that knows someone with autism will identify your business as one that cares.

* For small businesses with less than five staff. If your business has more than five staff contact us for costings. We understand that there are some small businesses that may not be able to afford the $250 upfront. Paying in instalments is an option and just let us know if you wish to pay in instalments when you contact us.

**For businesses located in outer city, country and rural areas, training may need to take place over the phone until we can recruit trainers in that area.


Contact us to be an “Autism Friendly Place”!

Email: enquiries@ahwbassociation.org
Telephone: 1300 784 417



Autism Friendly Places

Scroll through the window below to check out AFP’s and the level of service they offer.


Northcote Plaza
Over 65% of stores at Northcote Plaza have been trained to be an Autism Friendly Place. As far as our research tell us, no other shopping centre in the world has as many stores, in the one location where managers and staff understand what autism is. This makes Northcote Plaza (Victoria, Australia) the world’s first Autism Friendly Shopping Centre! Click here for the Plaza’s website which has a Centre Directory and location details.

Here’s a list of stores and organisations that are part of the Northcote Plaza AFP!



Other Autism Friendly Places