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Tom’s Drawing Board holds Easter Bunny meet and greet for children with autism

Published: Apr. 4, 2021 at 8:13 AM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Tom’s Drawing Board in Rhinelander held an Easter Bunny meet and greet for children with autism. It included the opportunity to play with stimulating toys, candy and treats, and individual audiences with the rabbit himself.

“We space it out so that the children can have an inclusive event with the Easter Bunny and they don’t get overwhelmed with everything else going on,” said owner Tom Barnett.

Barnett’s was the first certified autism-friendly business in the area. He says it’s all about understanding the person’s individual needs.

“I have cards hanging on my counter that show feelings that they can point to, to show how they’re feeling for the parent. It’s just little things like that, having sensory toys for them if they need it, having the earmuffs for the audible sensitive children,” he said.

Barnett said most of it is just being there for the parent. He understands the judgment they face when children with autism act out in public.

“It’s all about inclusion and making sure the families know this is a safe place to come if their child is autistic, and what I mean by safe is there’s no judgment if the child is having an event,” he said.

Autism Society Board Member Angie Higgins says awareness is making things better for children with autism, and that events like this are instrumental in spreading that awareness.

“Years ago when I was in high school, if you had autism you were banging your head on the floor and that’s all I knew. And now if you have autism, my oldest son lives on his own and holds a full-time job. You wouldn’t know it,” Higgins said.

One of the things Tom said that was most compelling is that these kids don’t need to be defined by their autism, people just need to understand that they learn differently.

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