For parents like me who are raising kids with autism and sensory processing disorder, taking our kids into any public setting—especially one that they may not be used to—requires thoughtful planning. My son reacts intensely to loud noises and to being in crowded spaces; like many children with autism, his “fight or flight” reaction goes into overdrive when his sensory system becomes overwhelmed.
My son is 16 now—and from parenting him, I’ve learned that spaces that I may find pleasant and comfortable like a coffee shop, museum or store, are full of too much sensory stimulation for him to enjoy.
We have been really fortunate that in the Philadelphia area, there has been increasing awareness among arts and culture organizations about the needs of people with autism, intellectual disabilities and sensory processing disorder. I’ve written about theater performance for kids with sensory sensitivities and am delighted to share this round-up about the many museums featuring sensory-friendly days that you and your family may want to check out.
New at the Constitution Center
If you’ve wanted to take your child to the Constitution Center but were concerned with the sensory environment, you now have specially-designed opportunities to explore the Center.
“At the National Constitution Center, we are committed to creating an inclusive space for all learners to feel welcome and be able to experience the important lessons about the foundation of our nation and the role the U.S. Constitution plays in their lives,” said Kerry Sautner, Chief Learning Officer at the National Constitution Center. “Making the Constitution accessible to all Americans is at the heart of our mission, and we look forward to providing each of our visitors with an enriching experience through our programming, exhibits, and environment.”
To that end, the Center has announced its first ever Sensory-Friendly Sundays, starting on March 24th. Kristina Marinello, Director of Visitor Experience at the Center, explained that Center staff was trained through Art-Reach, a Philadelphia organization that works to make the arts accessible for all people to better understand the needs of people with sensory sensitivities. Some of the accommodations that they are creating include making a quiet space available and creating a social story that parents can use to prepare their kids for their visit.
More Sensory-Friendly Opportunities
It’s exciting to see the range of museums that are creating similar experiences for families. Please be sure to contact the museum regarding your child’s particular needs; whenever I have called ahead with questions to prepare my son, I have been met by caring, competent staff people who are eager to help.
You may want to check out:
The Academy of Natural Sciences: Check out the “Opening the Doors to Autism” days and other services for visitors with disabilities.
Brandywine River Museum Of Art: The museum has created sensory-friendly packs that are available on a daily basis.
The Franklin Institute: The 2019 Sensory Sunday dates are listed—as well as other accommodations at the museum, including a sensory alert map and guide to quieter spaces.
The Penn Museum: The museum offers programs for families and for schools.
The Philadelphia Art Museum: Find out when you can experience the galleries with your kids before the museum opens to the public.
The Please Touch Museum: The Play Without Boundaries events for 2019 allow families to enjoy the museum with specially designed experiences.
Please share about your experiences at sensory-friendly museum days in the comments below!