Museum Events for People with Autism

Separate-but-equal may not be an ideal way to include people with autism, but for many museums (and families with autistic children) it is turning out to be a good start.  Programs intended exclusively for families and/or individuals with autism are relatively easy to create, require no long term commitment, and are well-received by the community.  What's more:
  • Separate events can be carefully controlled to mitigate sensory assaults and crowding
  • Separate events are easy for families to attend, as they involve little risk of embarrassment or anxiety over unusual behaviors or noises
  • Separate events can become full-scale community programs, involving autism resource organizations and volunteers
  • Little or no staff training is required for one-time events
  • Events can be held before or after regular museum hours, extending the museum's reach
  • General visitors are spared any possible discomfort, anxiety, or fear connected with being around people who behave atypically (this may be seen as a plus or a minus, depending upon your point of view)
  • Staff are spared any possible embarrassment or conflict over serving both the needs of the general public and the autism community (this may also be seen as a plus or a minus, depending upon your point of view)
  • Children, teens, and adults with autism can take part in programs and events designed specifically for their particular needs (assuming that they are "typically" autistic)
Of course, there is a downside for these exclusive events.  They are specifically NOT inclusive, they create and nurture the sense that people with autism are "other" and thus unwelcome during general museum hours, and they make it difficult for attendees to feel comfortable revisiting the museum during ordinary events or programs.  Since autism-only events are generally rare or one-time happenings, these events are typically more charitable than inclusive.

Museum Events for People with Autism

I've listed just a few events, because one-time events tend to "disappear" on the Internet, making it tough to link back.  Most of these events are held in April, during "Autism Awareness Month."  Here are several with links to articles or information still available online; again, the vast majority are held at children's museums:

Autism Family Night at the Boston Children's Museum:  Families with children 10 and under on the Autism Spectrum explored the Museum together from 4-7pm. The Museum was closed to the public (from 5pm on) and limited to 500 guest’s total. All Museum exhibits were open and there was a 5:30 and 6:30pm KidStage Show.

The Children’s Museum of Houston (CMH) invited families affected by Autism to the Museum’s Sensory Friendly Evening from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sensory Friendly Evening was an opportunity for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) to explore CMH in their own way and time. This exclusive event will provided a comfortable, protected and accepting environment, allow parents to make connections with other families, and offer new tools and resources.

The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, in cooperation with the Variety Club, offers an annual Autism Awareness Day.  "For one special night, the Please Touch Museum will open its doors just for Variety's children with autism (up to age 21) and their immediate family members."

The Exploratorium held several Autism/Asperger's family nights, which were very positively reviewed in an autism-oriented blog.

The Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoake Virginia held a special event: "Taubman Museum of Art, in Roanoke, Virginia, is a leader in providing access programs and events customized for children with special needs. One example of this commitment to serving the special needs community is the upcoming “Night at the Museum” on Friday, April 30, 2010. This free event starts at 6:00 p.m. and winds down at 8:00 p.m."

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