- The Wyndham Hotel in Austin, TX, recently started to offer “autism-friendly” rooms with sensory activities and an alarm on the door that will alert you when the door is opened.
- Colgate is sponsoring a Dental Tool Kit for children with autism.
- Dealing with a child’s Asperger’s is a main plot theme in the show Parenthood on NBC.
- Regal Cinemas offers “autism-friendly” movie showings in which it is ok to make noises, cry and wander around.
- Discovery Toys just started marketing a line of toys designed for children with autism
- And of course, there are the various foods, technology and products specifically designed to educate, cure, support, and raise awareness of autism
I think we’ve just reached the tipping point of autism being used as a marketing tool to reach families. As Kristina Chew said, back in 2007, “At this rate, I’m anticipating the Autism Limited Edition vehicles of various cars”. Marketers have realized that autism is such an epidemic, there is money to be made off of it.
Don’t misunderstand- I think it’s a great thing. I am much more likely to book a room at the Wyndham the next time I’m in Austin, even though it is more expensive than my typical hotel. I think it takes the stigma out of autism when I see lots of people wearing buttons, ribbons, necklaces, and hats with the various puzzle pieces on them. I am thrilled that friends of mine can actually take their child to go and see Toy Story 3 and not have to wait to see it on DVD. I am delighted that various autism organizations have teamed with so many businesses in order to advance the education about, and the research on autism.
But it is a bit odd to have this family issue, this disease, this condition, this difference, this… whatever it is- be considered a niche for marketing purposes. I receive so many advertisements aimed at other aspects of my life. Do I want a credit card that says what college I graduated from? Do I want some face cream to firm up these middle-aged eyes of mine? Do I want to set up a special college savings fund? Do I want pet insurance? Do I want to attend a conference on teacher education? Do I want to shop the special flowers on sale at our local nursery? (no, maybe, yes, maybe, probably yes, probably not). It’s even more interesting, when you consider that some recent research indicates that the careers of mothers of children with autism suffers. In other words, we don’t have as much money to spend as our peers, but there’s new competition for how we spend it. Marketers have realized that we are an audience worthy of wooing.
So, I’m talking to you, Honda/Ford/Toyota. We want a car that has seat belts that can only be opened by an adult. We want back seats that can be cooled/heated and aren’t too scratchy or too slippery. We want seats that rock. We want seats that squeeze and massage and can be turned off at a moment’s notice. We want blinds that can be adjusted in various directions to block out the glare. We want Ipod hookups at every seat. We want fabrics that can be wiped clean of any material. We want things for children to kick that don’t bother people in the front seats. We want to be able to drive without autism riding along.
When you see the puzzle symbol on that minivan/sedan/SUV, you let me know!