Local organization takes steps to make dining out easy for autistic children

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — One year ago, Julian Maha had the idea to create KultureCity, an organization meant to help families with autistic children and increase the acceptance of autism in our society.

“Our goal, really, was to engage the community, have them start thinking about autism, and how they could change their practices and their businesses, not in a huge way, but in very subtle ways and help accept these families and children back into the community,” Maha, the organization’s CEO, said.

The latest move by the organization is the introduction of the sensory box. It is a box full of different toys and items that can occupy an autistic child while they are out to dinner.

“For some reason, they sensory seek, meaning they look for these certain things to stimulate them,” Maha said. “For kids with autism, this is what stimulates them. This is what gets their brains working. It kind of engages them and helps them to develop.”

Maha got the idea after going to dinner with his own son, who is autistic.

“We took him to a restaurant and the normal things that would entertain a child of six, like crayons and things like that, did not work for him,” Maha said. “We wanted it to be where you could take your kids out with autism and they would be entertained.”

The whole idea came together in just under a week. Maha then begain looking for a restaurant to take on the sensory box. He settled on Post Office Pies in the Avondale area.

“We wanted it to be a restaurant that had good, quality organic food, that was local, that had a very low key environment, and had great pizza.”

When KultureCity approached Post Office Pies, the restaurant was quick to accept the idea.

“When we were approached, it was almost a no-brainer to sign up,” said John Hall, one of the owners and operating managers at Post Office Pies. “We want everyone in the neighborhood to enjoy our establishment, enjoy or pizza, ad we don’t want anyone excluded for whatever reason. This ensures us that everyone can come to Post Office Pies and have a good time.”

For Hall, the acceptance of the idea was easy because of an occurrence the day prior in the restaurant.

“Part of our atmosphere is very friendly, there’s loud music playing, ” Hall said. “We noticed that the special needs child, she had her ears covered and the mother asked us could we turn the music down, it was bothering her daughter. At first, we didn’t know she was special needs, but once we had that conversation with her, we immediately turned it off.”

The sensory box contains noise cancelling headphones for children with autism where loud noises can be troublesome. The box also had an iPad with games for children with a visual need and plenty of textural toys.

“Julian over at KultureCity really spearheaded this project. He’s been educating us on the sensory toys and visual and texture toys,” Hall said. Some children, their need with autism is hearing, their hearing bothers them. Across the board, texture is a big thing for the kids to have an need. He’s been training us, first hand, on what needs to go in the box and what goes in the box because it hits so close to him with his son.”

The box was first given to Post Office Pies on May 27. To this point, it has not been put into practice, but Hall says the frequency of the box’s use isn’t important.

“Even if it’s just one family for the first month or so, there’s a family that is taking advantage of what we’re providing here. That’s a family that feels a lot more comfortable coming out to eat.”

In the future, KultureCity is looking to expand the program to other family-friendly restaurants in the metro area.

To learn more about KultureCity, their purpose, and other projects they are involved in, visit their website at www.kulturecity.org.

Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 News

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