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In this May 14, 2016, file photo, people on the autism spectrum and their families and supporters form a living replica of the Autism Friendly Community logo in Uptown Circle in Normal. The logo will be recreated at an Autism Friendly Community celebration on Saturday.

STEVE SMEDLEY, PANTAGRAPH FILE PHOTO

NORMAL — A community campaign to help businesses, the service industry and community organizations better understand and work with people with autism has experienced success that will be celebrated this weekend.

The Autism Friendly Community campaign, which launched in April 2016, will mark its progress from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Uptown Circle, Normal.

"Much progress has happened in our community since we first launched the Autism Friendly Community initiative in April 2016," Kari Sandhaas, Autism Friendly Community chair, said in a statement. "Several businesses, local government and organizations have stepped up, increasing their openness and staff awareness to welcome, serve and include people on the autism spectrum."

The campaign was announced in April 2016 by Autism McLean and Marcfirst. Goals included reasonable accommodations in workplaces and welcoming recreation and leisure centers for people with autism. Sandhaas said when the campaign began that more than 2,500 people in McLean County have autism "but people with autism are often overlooked," especially as they become adults.

Because many people don't understand autism, many people on the autism spectrum are unemployed.

Marcfirst's supported employment program helps people with autism and other disabilities find and retain jobs through job coaching and reasonable accommodations.

Since 2016:

  • An Autism Friendly Community white paper for the Regional Planning Commission was included in Town of Normal planning.
  • Autism Friendly Community window clings were distributed to local businesses and organizations that took steps to become more autism-aware.
  • Normal Public Library created new spaces and programs, including autism-friendly open houses, a calming room and a monthly Autism Cafe social space.
  • Autism McLean launched its I Am Social camp for people on the autism spectrum who are beyond school age.
  • Sensory bags are available through Autism McLean for local businesses and organizations to use to help to calm people with autism. Miller Park Zoo is among locations using the bags.
  • Autism McLean has partnered with the Jaycees, Marcfirst and Max's Miles in the Harmony Park Project to develop an inclusive playground.

The Saturday celebration will include autism information and activities by Autism McLean, Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington and Normal public libraries, Children's Discovery Museum, Marcfirst and Skill Sprouts.

A recognition of local autism champions will be from 11 a.m. to noon and will include a recreation of the multi-colored Autism Friendly Community logo at 11:40 a.m.

To nominate an autism champion, go to www.signupgenius.com/go/60b0a4facaf292-2018.

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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