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June 26, 2024

Framingham nonprofit to open autism business training center at Natick Mall

A large orange sign reads "Natick Mall" with "Main Entrance" underneath. Photo | Grant Welker The Natick Mall

Advocates, a Framingham-based human services nonprofit, will open an autism training center for businesses and a social space for children and families impacted by autism at the Natick Mall in the fall.

In addition to activity space, the 2,700-square-foot Autism Welcoming center from Advocates’ Autism Alliance program will act as a training hub for businesses looking to obtain Autism Welcoming certification in an effort to make their establishments more inviting and accessible for those with autism. The center will offer after-school and school vacation activities, guest speakers, and support groups, according to a Wednesday press release from Advocates.

The center’s space was donated to Advocates and renovated by the Natick Mall along with additional funding provided by the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation, a Wellesley-based nonprofit supporting those with autism, and the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services.

“Thanks to the generosity and kindness of the Natick Mall’s ownership and management, we are able to open a new door leading to autism supports and resources,” Jeff Keilson, senior vice president for strategic planning at Advocates, said in the release.  “Autism Alliance and its Autism Welcoming program will be even more accessible to families and businesses and well-positioned to generate awareness of autism and sensory sensitivities, while creating a more inclusive community.”

The Autism Welcoming certification trainings aim to educate businesses on accommodations they can make to support their autistic patrons while providing employees with a deeper understanding of possible autistic characteristics, including challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, and nonverbal communication. 

“As a small business that focuses on young children, we are very excited to hear that the Autism Alliance will be opening inside the Natick Mall,” Mandy Sim, owner of Jam Time, a business adjacent to the center, said in the release. “This new location will benefit not just our clients, but all families in our communities.”

The center’s opening comes as Advocates announced its plans to merge both the Franklin-based Horace Mann Educational Associates, Inc. and Lawrence-based Family Continuity, forming a $211-million entity. 

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