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All Access Guide to the Museum: Autism

July 6, 2016

For any visitor, going to a museum has the potential to be an overwhelming experience. Large crowds, new sensory experiences, an unknown environment, and expectations of best behavior can act as barriers to enjoying a day at the museum. This can be especially true for visitors with special needs. But is that a reason to avoid museums altogether? No way!

In this series, we’ll explore tips and tricks for creating a great Museum experience for visitors with special needs. First up in our All Access Guide to the Museum series is Autism!

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  • Reviewing a social story before your Museum visit may help your child understand what to expect. This can meet a need for structure and predictability, and help to reduce the stress or confusion your child may experience throughout their visit. Find a social story for your DMA visit here!
  • Make your visit child-sized and focus on just a few works of art that spark your child’s curiosity. Don’t feel like you need to see everything in one day. General admission to the Museum is free and you can return again and again!
  • Pass the reins to the kids and follow their interests! Let them choose where to go and what to see, then give their imaginations a workout. You might search for favorite colors or animals, act out a story you see in the artwork, or play a game of I Spy.
  • Children may prefer to sit and participate in quiet activities, such as drawing or playing a game. Find places within the galleries that allow for quiet time, such as one of the benches found around the Museum or open spaces to sit on the floor. Bring along a sketchbook and colored pencils to experience the art in an interactive way.
  • Take a break! Adding breaks to your Museum visit may help children spend more time touring the galleries and increase their overall enjoyment. Find a quiet place to take a break that is free of auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation. For example, the walls in the Ancient American galleries are a calm, muted grey tone complimented by low lighting. This creates a more soothing atmosphere for children who are sensitive to bright light or may become distracted with too much visual stimulation.

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  • Children are welcome to wear noise canceling headphones or listen to music during their time at the Museum. This may be helpful if they respond negatively to unexpected or loud noises, hold their hands over their ears to protect them from sounds, become distracted around a lot of sounds, or can’t work with background noise.
  • Allowing children to carry a small object or favorite toy during their visit may enable them to focus more fully.
  • Children who have sensory seeking tendencies may display a need to touch certain surfaces or textures. Providing them with opportunities throughout their Museum visit to touch and interact with exhibits may be helpful in increasing their enjoyment. Although the majority of items in the Museum should not be touched, a few galleries do include interactive elements, such as the playable thumb piano in the African gallery. For more interactive experiences, head down to the Center for Creative Connections on the first floor where you can visit Arturo’s Nest and the Young Learners Gallery. Both are “please touch” spaces where kids can crawl, explore, and play.
  •  If you prefer to plan your visit during non-peak hours, you may want to come September through May (Tuesday-Friday, after 1:00 pm). If you are planning your visit during Summer, Spring Break, or holidays, you may want to visit Tuesday-Friday, 11:00 to 1:00 pm.

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  • Visit the Museum during our next Autism Awareness Family Celebration, when we open two hours early for children with autism and their families to enjoy art together! Families can participate in art-making activities in the studio, enjoy an interactive performance by our music therapist, listen to an in-gallery story time, or relax in our quiet sensory room facilitated by occupational therapy students from Texas Woman’s University.

We hope to see you soon!

Emily Wiskera
McDermott Graduate Intern for Family and Access Teaching

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