Autism Friendly UM-NSU-CARD

Autism Friendly Community

The City of Cooper City embarked on a partnership in 2022 with the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU-CARD) and the Autism Society of Florida to develop new resources, programming, and employee training to be designated as an Autism Friendly Community. 

The City worked closely with UM-NSU-CARD and the Autism Society of South Florida to train both City employees and BSO Cooper City District staff, while also reviewing City facilities and parks for sensory-friendly improvements and more.


Cooper City Autism Friendly Visuals

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is committed to continuing to provide essential data on ASD, search for factors that put children at risk for ASD and possible causes and develop resources that help identify children with ASD as early as possible.

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.

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What Can We Do to Be More Autism Friendly?

An exciting and fast-moving effort is under way to create “Autism Friendly” spaces so that children and adults with autism can feel more supported and families can better enjoy visits to the theater, restaurants, and even just going out for ice cream. More businesses are tuning in to ways that they can provide welcoming spaces for individuals with autism and other related disabilities.

About 1 in 36 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from the CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. 

Many individuals with autism perceive sensory information such as sounds, smells, textures, tastes and sights differently. For example, certain sounds (fire alarms, vacuums, hair dryers, sirens) may be painful. Or perhaps particular smells (perfumes, candles, flowers, foods) may be overwhelming and distracting. Each person is different and may benefit from different accommodations - don’t be afraid to ask what might help your patrons/clients!

In addition to sensory accommodations, many people with autism will benefit from knowing what to expect when visiting your club, site or business. Offering visual supports such as social narratives could help people with autism prepare for a visit. A social narrative is a visually represented story that outlines what a typical visit to your location or business might look like.

  • Accommodating sensory, communication, and social needs of individuals with ASD.
  • Having staff trained to be aware of different needs and offer assistance and support.
  • Reducing the amount of sensory stimuli so that individuals with autism can tolerate being in a space.
  • Responding to feedback and suggestions from the autism community.

How to help with Sensory Modifications:

  • Encourage staff to be fragrance/perfume free
  • Eliminate air fresheners and scented candles
  • Use scent-free cleaners
Proprioceptive Tactile
Proprioceptive sense: knowing where your body is in space
  • Communicate any structural differences that may cause someone to trip or fall
  • Clearly define walkways
  • Double check rugs to make sure they are secure
  • Offer a weighted blanket or lap pad
  • Provide visuals of your building that highlights key areas (restrooms, exits, stairs, sensory areas, etc.)
  • Provide 360° tours online to help customers visualize space and map out needs before they visit
  • Provide easy access to small hand fidgets (i.e. squishy, soft, & textured)
  • Ask before touching. For example, “May I shake your hand?” or “May I touch your wrist to take your pulse?”
  • Avoid unnecessary touch
  • Reduce lighting (or increase if too dark)
  • Avoid use of overhead fluorescent lighting
  • Use natural light or lamps whenever possible
  • Turn off televisions or flashing lights/signs
  • Reduce and limit background music
  • Provide seating away from kitchens, snack bars, or other areas where there tends to be unexpected noises
  • Offer noise cancelling headphones
  • Provide a quiet place to take breaks
  • Lower the volume to any sound that cannot be eliminated entirely
    • Quiet Buildings – Autistic individuals usually love quiet spaces, but quiet buildings/offices/libraries also tell people to BE quiet. The irony is that the autistic individual may make noise themselves, possibly by talking to themself or moving around. Becoming autistic friendly this needs to be recognized and tolerated.
Tips for Parents
  • Help Prepare Your Child for Trips, Visits, and Outings
    Visiting autism friendly places will help make going out easier for families with children with autism, but there are also ways you can ensure the best possible outcome for these visits.
    • Call ahead to the venue you plan to visit and ask what accommodations they have available for people with disabilities. You can discuss possible ways the space might be used to accommodate your child, such as asking where a quiet space is located so that you can take your child there if they feel overwhelmed.
    • Prepare a “tool box” such as a small backpack filled toys or other items that will help your child stay calm. Consider bringing noise canceling headphones or sunglasses if your child is sensitive to sounds or bright lights. Have a few favorite snacks available.
    • Visit a location’s website with your child to help them prepare. You can go over your plans for the day and look at pictures of where you are going. If you would like to go to a concert or theater performance, look for recordings to play for your child to show them what it will be like and to note their reactions.
    • Model and practice the best way to ask for a break in case your child feels too overwhelmed. If your child is non-verbal, you can utilize visual tools to communicate this such as colored cards.
Use sequencing cards that will help your child understand what visiting a venue will be like. Photographic images work the best because they give your child a realistic sense of what will happen and what the venue will look like. As you show your child the visual sequencing cards walk them through the order in which events will happen: “First we will take a bus, etc.


The City of Cooper City, UM-NSU-CARD and HAPPE encourages these general accommodations in our Autism Friendly Community:

  • PRESUME COMPETENCE. Always speak directly to the person you are communicating with, despite any apparent disability or difference. Never assume that someone can’t understand you.
  • BE KIND AND RESPECTFUL to everyone, even if you don’t understand someone’s behavior.
  • WELCOME ANY TOOLS OR SUPPORTS people may bring in for themselves (sunglasses, headphones, hand and oral motor fidgets, visual supports).
  • EMBRACE ALTERNATIVE COMMUNICATION METHODS such as picture strips, typed communication, voice output.
  • DEVELOP SOCIAL NARRATIVES AND OTHER VISUAL SUPPORTS to help people know what to expect when visiting your business.
  • GIVE PROCESSING TIME for people to respond before repeating yourself. Be clear and concise with verbal communication.
  • ADD PICTURES/IMAGES to any written material. Example: a restaurant may add a picture of each item on their menu. 
  • BE FLEXIBLE about trying new ideas and keep an open mind about accommodations you might not have considered before. Example: a hand stamp instead of a paper bracelet.