City of Tampa Makes Progress on ‘Autism Friendly Tampa’ Initiative

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 The City of Tampa is moving quickly on an initiative announced by Mayor Bob Buckhorn during his State of the City speech earlier this year. In the past three months, the City has worked closely with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) to train employees, review parks and other city facilities for sensory-friendly improvements, distribute “distract packs” to 15 parks and recreation locations, and much more.


“In my time as mayor, I have made it a point to ensure that Tampa is open to everyone. Autism Friendly Tampa is no different, we are working hard on fulfilling our commitment to those families and individuals touched by Autism. Tampa is their home and they deserve every opportunity to enjoy what we have to offer,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “The training and additional resources will help provide a level of comfort and accessibility to Tampa families they may not have had before.”


The City of Tampa is partnering with CARD housed at the University of South Florida to develop new resources, programming, and employee training. “The team at the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida has quickly moved ahead in providing training, technical assistance and developing materials in meeting Mayor Buckhorn’s vision for an Autism Friendly Tampa, said Karen Berkman, Executive Director for CARD. “We could not be more thrilled with the positive feedback from city employees and families in our community on the collaborative work and outcomes we are achieving.”


The City hopes to be designated as “Autism Friendly” by CARD after it completes additional training and work.


Here are some of the highlights so far:


  • Autism Friendly training has been completed for nearly 1,000 employees in Parks and Recreation and Tampa Police Department.
  • By the end of the year, training will be completed for Parks and Recreation, Tampa Police Department, and Tampa Fire Rescue totaling more than 1,700 employees.
  • After Tampa Police officers complete the Autism Friendly training, the Tampa Police Department will be outfitting each officer with a communication card to better assist those who have trouble verbally communicating.
  • Training for additional 1,000 employees in various city departments is being scheduled for early 2018.
  • “Distract Packs” and visual aids for communication were designed by CARD and distributed to 15 city locations. “Distract Packs” are the plastic bins full of sensory toys and activities for children who may need to have something to help them manage difficult situations.  
  • Tampa Riverwalk Social Experience Story was developed and is now available. Social experience stories provide families and individuals the opportunity to review what to expect at a location prior to a visit. This story has had nearly 200 downloads from the City of Tampa website.
  • New and expanded programs are being introduced such as “no score” team sports, private swimming lessons and water safety classes, gymnastics and dance with a therapist.


Moving in to the next 3 to 6 months, the City and CARD will continue to focus on training employees, building partnerships for sensory friendly events and programming, designating “quiet zones” at city parks and facilities, designing and installing a sensory garden for Katherine Malone Park, developing additional social experience stories and other resources, and launching the Mayor’s Autism Friendly Tampa Advisory Committee. 

Distract Pak

   Distract Pak

For additional information, please contact: 

Ashley Bauman, Public Affairs Director

(813) 274-8262