Animal Welfare League of Alexandria Earns Autism Certification

Animal Welfare League of Alexandria Earns Autism Certification

The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards named the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) a Certified Autism Center, marking the first animal welfare organization to earn this certification. The Certified Autism Center program provides autism training and certification to AWLA staff and volunteers so they can better understand and assist autistic and sensory-sensitive individuals during their

visit or camp.

“Whether looking for a new companion, visiting our pet pantry, or spending the day in our youth summer camp program, we want each member of our community to have the best experience possible while visiting the AWLA,” said Joanna Fortin, Director of Community Programs at the AWLA. “We … look forward to connecting with our visitors to help determine how we can make their experience most enjoyable.”

The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria has been a resource for the community and a shelter for homeless animals since 1946. Through adoptions, spay and neuter assistance, education, community service, and outreach, the AWLA plays a key role in promoting responsible pet care across Northern Virginia. More than 2,000 animals come into the organizations care each year, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, iguanas, and chinchillas. The AWLA also assists area wildlife that has been injured or are in distress, with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into their natural habitat if possible.

“At the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, we strive to be welcoming and inclusive. As a Certified Autism Center, we continue to show our community that everyone is welcome at our facility,” said AWLA Executive Director Stella Hanly.

The need for autism-specific training among community and city organizations has never been greater, with 1 in 36 children diagnosed with autism in the US (according to the CDC) and a growing number of adults receiving autism diagnoses later in life.

IBCCES training and certification programs help professionals in various fields better understand how to communicate and assist autistic individuals within their community. In addition to staff training to support those with sensory sensitivities, the AWLA provides free sensory bags that include a pair of noise-reducing headphones, sunglasses, fidget devices, and an “I need/I feel” card, which may facilitate communication with nonverbal individuals. Sensory bags are available for checkout at the shelter’s front desk. The AWLA also provides a low-sensory quiet area for visitors

who want to decompress. For potential adopters, the League offers the option of a virtual meeting with adoptable animals through Zoom if a visit to our shelter may be difficult to manage. AWLA also plans on developing a social story to help visitors understand what to expect when visiting so they can plan their visit in advance.