Museum Opens Early for Families with Autistic Children

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Museum exhibits are some of the best teaching tools offered to children and families. Luckily, kids with ASD who are easily overwhelmed by the sights and sounds do not have to stay home.

For a child with ASD, crowded places and lots of noise can be disorienting. Loud conversations, bright lighting, and lots of strangers are typically a part of the museum experience. Programs like the one at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, WA adjust their programming to suit the needs of the autistic.

The museum opens early once a month to accommodate these families. During this two hour window, lights are dimmed and noises are lowered to make the kids comfortable. The facility also has a much smaller crowd, which means less unfamiliar people.

Including all kids of children is important as awareness for autism grows internationally. In the Seattle School District, ten percent of special needs children are somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

Families like the Hiners are usually intimidated to bring their kids into environments that make them uncomfortable. Mike Hiner’s 20 year old son Steven has a much easier time with the accommodations than he would on a normal museum day.

Staff member Renee Gervais is happy that more children will have access to the museum’s the programs.

“What we want is to be able to provide our programming, provide these experiences for children who may love them, who may be able to kind of run with them, who may become very inspired by that interaction,” she said to NPR.

Although Steven Hiner was overstimulated by the butterfly garden, some other children like 8-year-old Desmond Tesai very much enjoyed the room once the lights were dimmed and it was quieter. Desmond said the gardenias smelled like “honey made toast.” The kids can also experience lifelike robotic dinosaurs, and a large video model of a human sneezing that sprays water vapor.

Other programs that provide similar accommodations include Chicago Children’s Museum, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, and Oklahoma WONDERtorium. Along with many other types of businesses and organizations, such museums are working to create a world that is less scary and stressful for families with autistic children, in order to facilitate learning and fun outings.

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