City of Tampa taking steps to become more autism friendly

By Dalia Dangerfield, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced during his "State of the City" earlier this year that he plans to make the city more Autism friendly -- and now, six months later, the city is moving forward with the mayor's promise. 

  • City of Tampa taking steps to become more autism friendly
  • City employees getting training to work with special needs children
  • "Distract packs" full of sensory toys & activities placed around city

More than a thousand city employees have gone through training to work with children who have special needs. 

"We talk about how to communicate or how they may communicate," Lee Daly with USF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities said. 

Mom's like Jennifer Sickle, who's 9-year-old daughter Leah is autistic, said the training has made a big difference. 

Those at Cate Jackson Recreation Center have welcomed her into their after school program with open arms. 

"She has bean bag in the camp room. She has spaces all over the rec center where she feels safe. If she needs to take a breather, she knows where she can go," Sickle said. 

To help bridge any possible communication gap, the center for Autism and Related Disabilities also designed what's called a "distract pack" -- which are bins full of sensory toys and activities. 

The distract packs have already been placed at 15 different city locations. 

At the new Tampa Recreation Center, the training will soon be used for gymnastic and dance classes -- which 30 special needs children already take part in. 

"It's very, very overwhelming with children with autistic tendencies," Parks Supervisor Patti Gross said. 

The room is normally packed with children and that could pose a problem for those who can't take the crowds and noise. 

However, after all of the training, some things may change. 

"I would love to do a special need class where it's a little quieter and you can invite the parents with the autistic children," Gross said. 

Those are just more ways to make Tampa more autistic friendly. 

Jennifer Sickle said for her family, the city has already come a long way. 

The Tampa Police Department said it's also taking part in the training. Each officer will receive a communication card to better work with those who can not verbally communicate.