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Your Dollars @ Work: Fun at the Museum!

This Your Dollars @ Work post tells how a Family Services Community Grant helped the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City create a model for an autism-friendly museum experience!

In 2011, Autism Speaks provided a grant of $10,000 to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. With this funding, among other accomplishments, the museum conducted staff trainings and delivered eight family programs that served 380 participants. In order to benefit the entire autism community, the museum also led conference presentations for other cultural organizations that provide programs for children with autism and their families and started to prepare a soon-to-be released tool kit to help make museums and other similar institutions more autism-friendly. 

After assessing the current museum programs in order to help make the museum more welcoming to individuals on the spectrum and their families, consultants conducted four training sessions for all museum staff, including museum educators, volunteers and security guards. General training sessions provided an overview of autism and the museum-going experience for this audience. There was a specific focus on scenarios that may arise in the Museum setting. Training sessions for the Museum’s Education Department concentrated on teaching techniques, visual supports and modifications needed for the Museum environment to help make the experience enjoyable for the autism community.

Once the staff was trained and modifications were made, the Intrepid Museum launched a new Early Morning Opening program exclusively for families affected by autism. On one Saturday every other month, the museum opens its doors one hour early for the autism community and educators lead tours, art-making activities, and demonstrations. Each Saturday, visual agendas are distributed that define the experience up front and let children know exactly what to expect. Visual vocabulary sheets are tailored to each program’s theme and serve as checklists for the children, motivating them to observe and engage with the exhibits and the general environment and give them a sense of accomplishment as they ‘check off’ each item that they find.

A section of the museum is curtained off for the early morning activities where the children can move freely in self-discovery. Trained staff members engage with the families and facilitate transitioning between activities. There are many sensory activities to engage in that relate to the program’s specific theme as well as interactive installations which capture the children’s attention and feed their curiosities.

Here is what one parent had to say about her experience:

"The Intrepid Museum Early Morning Openings Program has been a very liberating and enriching program for my family. I say ‘liberating’ because my children a free to experience the museum’s space and exhibits in ways that are more natural to them, at a pace that is not overwhelming and with sensitivity to sensory inputs that usually preclude our families ability to enjoy museums together. I say ‘enriching’ because the programs are very educational and experiential, designed to engage children such as mine, who are unique learners.

"The Intrepid Early Morning openings have been an extremely positive experience for our family, providing a rare ‘safe zone’ in an interesting environment outside of our home where our family can share a unique cultural experience, enjoy time together, learn together and grow."

Read more about this parent's experience here!

Watch the video below to learn more about the Intrepid Early Morning program!

Stay tuned for an informational tool kit from the museum soon. Visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum website to learn more!

Click here to read the Intrepid's Final Report.

For more information about the programs for the autism community at the Intrepid, email or call 646-381-5163.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.