Community supports autism initiative

Published 6:24 am Saturday, April 20, 2019

Twenty-five local businesses or service providers are now participating in the Autism Friendly Austin (AFA) Initiative which began in September of 2017.

These organizations have participated in a specially designed program to make them more aware of the needs of those on the spectrum. Through training done by Mary Barinka, our Community Autism Resource Specialist, business owners and their staff are educated on simple ways they can treat or serve customers or employees with autism. The training is free and businesses are given a tool kit which includes sensory items that help someone with autism adjust to a new or stressful situation.

Community Autism Resource Secialist Mary Barinka. Photo provided

In honor of Autism Awareness month I would like to recognize those who have embraced AFA training and are helping to make our community more sensory sensitive and inclusive of those with special needs: Apple Lane Childcare, Austin Artworks Center/Paramount Theatre, Austin Fire Department, Austin Public Library, Catherwood Childcare Center, Drs. Elrod, Green and Heimer, D.D.S. Austin/Adams, Essence Salon, Family Eye Care Center, Guy Family Dentistry, Hormel Historic Home, InnoVision EyeCare Austin/Albert Lea, LIFE Mower County, Matchbox Children’s Theater, Mayo Clinic Health System, Medicap Pharmacy, Midtown Auto Clinic, Not Your Mama’s Photography, Parenting Resource Center, Perkins Restaurant, Potach and Mitchell Dentistry, Seibel Center, Southeastern Minnesota Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Spam Museum, Style Lounge, YMCA.

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The AFA initiative has been made possible by many donors including Gary and Pat Ray, Dick and Nancy Knowlton, the United Way, the Hormel Foundation and YOU.  We just completed the 8th annual Stepping Out for Autism Walk and raised over $6,000 through that endeavor.  The money raised stays right here in Austin and supports AFA but it also funds the three summer camps, the three monthly respite events and the outreach programming that we offer year round.

Our 2019 corporate sponsors for the Walk include Bollingberg Chiropractic, CRC, Family Eye Care, Games People Play, Holiday Inn, Mayo Clinic Health System, McFarland Trucking, Midtown Auto, Pizza Ranch, Potach and Mitchell Dentistry, Precision Signs, QPP, Rocko’s Retreat and Doggy Daycare, Rolling Green Fencing, Southeast MN Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Associates, and Worlein Funeral Homes.

Although autism outreach is the main mission within our programming, the efforts we are making within the community can benefit people with all disabilities or sensitivities.  The lives of all can be improved when people are more aware of the needs of others.   

Although much attention is given to autism in April, our programming is offered year round and you are invited to learn more about it at

What’s Happening at the HHH

History At Play Day

10-11:30 a.m., Saturday, May 4

Enjoy historic activities in the historic home.  Appropriate for all ages. Story time sponsored by Sweet Reads. Free.

2nd Annual King’s Wood Dinner

Saturday, May 18

Support Gerard Academy and the Hormel Historic Home by attending this dinner reminiscent of the luxurious King’s Wood Hotel and Night Club operated by Geordie Hormel. Tickets are $35 per person and are available at