In 2012, Autism Speaks awarded $25,000 through our Family Sevices Community Grants program to the New York Transit Museum to expand and refine its Subway Sleuths program, designed to help seven to 12-year-old train enthusiasts on the autism spectrum strengthen their social skills!
The goal of Subway Sleuths is to tap into the special interest that many youth on the autism spectrum have in trains and transit, and use this shared interest to develop comfort, competence, and positive feelings around social interactions with peers. Because trains are a popular special interest area of individuals with autism, the New York Transit Museum is perfect for this type of work. The museum itself serves as both the motivator and the organizational structure for highlighting, modeling, investigating and experiencing social interactions. For The Subway Sleuths, it’s all about trains and transportation! And, once we embrace the idea that children can be experts in the things that interest them and that the feeling of competence this yields is the place to start social learning, the possibilities are endless.
The program uses content about the New York City subway to practice and promote social engagement, collaboration, and problem solving. During the 10 sessions students immerse themselves in transit history and work in partnerships on a project they design. The program ends with a “Subway Sleuths Super Party” where students share their discoveries with family and friends!
Groups are facilitated by an experienced special educator and speech-language pathologist trained in supporting with students with autism spectrum disorders, who work in collaboration with museum educators from the Transit Museum. During the 10-week program, the facilitators use strategies within an interest-based framework to encourage students’ enthusiasm for the transit system and also to address areas of difficulty common for students on the autism spectrum.
The Subway Sleuths Program Guide illustrates the power that special interest areas of children with autism can bring to educational programs and how these interests can both motivate and support students’ social engagement. The guide presents how the New York Transit Museum has harnessed this power and encourages other museums and after-school programs to consider how they, too, could incorporate the principles of the Subway Sleuths program!
Search the Autism Speaks Resource Guide for after school programs in your area!