3 Ideas for Instant Inclusion

Inclusion can be easier than you think!
How do you include a person with autism in a setting or situation that's not geared to people with differences or challenges?

All too often, the answer provided is either (1) create a separate setting or situation in which "those" people can be "comfortable" or (2) teach the people to handle a difficult setting or set of expectations.

All too rarely, there is consideration of the possibility that, with just a few minor changes, the setting and its expectations can be changed to accommodate people, rather than vice versa.  Even when those changes cost nothing except an hour, a few minutes, or even a few seconds -- and nothing more.

How is this possible in a museum setting?  Here are just a few examples for your consideration.

1.  A family with an autistic child arrives at your museum at the most crowded hour of the week -- 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon.  The child is quickly overwhelmed by the noise and crowds, and the parents ask advice at the information booth.  The museum spokesperson can shrug his shoulders or recommend that the family attend a "special" autism event.  Or he could take 45 seconds to provide a return voucher so that the family can come back at a quieter moment -- possibly tomorrow morning before noon!

2.  A group of autistic adults will be visiting the museum as part of a social skills program.  They would like to learn about the impressionists, but have a hard time processing fast-paced spoken language.  The tour guide can decide that she is a lecturer, and thus has nothing to offer this group -- who should take advantage of "special" offerings.  Or she can take five minutes ask a colleague who works with children to lend her some hands-on materials that will help her to communicate more effectively with an interested group of adults.

3.  A teen with Asperger syndrome would like to be included in an ongoing workshop or class, but cannot sit still for more than a few minutes without needing to get up and move.  The instructor can just say no, or suggest that the teen take part in a "special" program.  Or he can spend a few minutes modifying the program so that short breaks are built in for all participants.

None of these changes are difficult or complex.  None require an extra nickel.  None require more than an hour of extra time.  None require great concessions or sacrifices on the part of a "typical" community.

Why are such changes, then, so rare?


  1. These are great suggestions, Lisa Jo, thanks for sharing. I think part of the reason the changes are so rare is lack of staff training. Museums are starting, however, to make it more of a priority to learn more about people on the spectrum and best practices on how to serve them. Your blog will certainly help!

    Another reason may be fear on the part of museums of how to make accommodations in a reasonable manner. Concrete suggestions like these really help. Planning to share this post with my grad students in museum studies!

  2. Hi Lisa Jo,
    Thanks for the suggestions. I like to think that we are doing many of those already here at The Discovery Museums. I think one of the things I struggle with is what is appropriate accomodation. I know that I would be happy to give someone free passes to come back on a less busy day, but I'd also be sad that they weren't able to be there right then because the visit wasn't working. I guess this is maybe the difference between a no cost fast solution, and what can be larger more expensive solutions. Ultimately, it would be great to build our future spaces around successful experiences for all visitors. This could mean having designated quiet rooms, social stories, noise reducing head phones, or whatever tool would help address each and every unique request and need.
    Something that we are working on here is how to create the bridge from special evening events to public hour visitation (because certainly the purpose of the special evening events is not to discourage visiting at other times). One of the ideas is simply to promote the idea of the "no risk visit," by having them pay when they leave only if their stay is over a certain amount of time (no cost for short/brief visits).

  3. As a 62 year old who only recently learned of my own membership in this ASD community, I can look back and see a number of times that a truly thoughtful/creative/resourceful person is all that is needed to transition from poor to great experiences. It does not take either money or grand plans as much as it does the awareness that such issues do exist for some, a willingness to open up one's mind to alternatives, and the effort to find an alternative, to take another path. It may seem far worse than it is, until you look more closely, with an open mind, and then, suddenly, the answer may appear ... and to the satisfaction and delight of all. Please don't work on the premise that all solutions must cost money or be designed by a team of specialists. The only specialty required is an imagination, desire, and opportunity to help.


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