By Jess Basil
Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum is proud to offer a variety of resources to families of children with special needs. We currently provide a monthly evening event for families of children with disabilities, two quiet rooms, sensory-friendly backpacks, separate sensory hours for special events, an inclusive treehouse exhibit, and a universal changing station. One of our top priorities is to create a space that is accommodating and accessible to all visitors.
Once a month, our special Au-Some Evenings give children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, as well as their friends and family, the chance to play and learn together in an understanding and supportive environment. Families have access to all museum spaces and play zones, including our café. Featured programs include music therapy, therapy dogs, art projects, and gross motor activities. For example, our April Au-Some Evening we have partnered with Fisher Price to bring Thomas the Tank and friends, great activities, and some giveaways. Since April is Autism Awareness month, we encourage visitors to wear blue to highlight autism spectrum disorder (ASD) awareness.
Our two quiet zones are located on our busiest and most stimulating floors. One is in our Moving Water play zone, and the other is near our Person-Centered Services Community Treehouse exhibit. The rooms provide respite for nursing moms and for children who feel overstimulated. They feature reduced lighting, soothing graphics, and fixtures that help calm the senses, along with developmentally appropriate manipulates, such as fidget toys.
Upon check-in, families can request a quiet kit, which is a sensory-friendly backpack containing a variety of support tools. They include noise-canceling headphones, stress balls, fidget toys, visual timers, and an illustrated social narrative that guides guests through their visit. This narrative describes a variety of social situations for learners and provides relevant cues, explanations of the feelings and thoughts of others, and descriptions of appropriate behavior expectations. The narrative is most helpful in reducing anxiety for children with autism about visiting our new space. Although such tools are historically used for kids with disabilities, they can be useful for all children. The short story, filled with explicit and descriptive language, walks children through our area, strategically identifying unique locations such as restrooms, quiet rooms, and the café, as well as directing guests to helpful resources. Accessing such information allows families the opportunity to prepare for their visit and the autonomy to make choices around which exhibits and programs may interest them most, and is offered free of charge to anyone who wishes to use one.
We hope to play into possibilities with you! We strive to be as accommodating as possible to families with special needs. If there is a specific need or request to help make your visit more accessible, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we will do our best to assist you.
Au-Some Evenings is a pre-registered, private event offered during closed business hours; please head to our website at https://exploreandmore.org/programs/au-some-evenings/ for more information and to register for future events.