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Your ATN@Work: An Autism-Friendly Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Our ATN center in Nashville collaborates with another partner in its quest to make the city a global example of an autism-inclusive community

By pediatric behavior analyst Lauren Weaver, coordinator of organizational outreach at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD). Vanderbilt TRIAD is one of 14 centers in the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN).

Our team at TRIAD has been working to create a dynamic network of arts, recreation and educational partners united in the goal of making Nashville a welcoming place for individuals with autism and their families. We work with these wonderful organizations to educate their staff about autism spectrum disorder and assist them in providing resources that make their venues more autism friendly and inclusive to all persons with developmental disabilities.

In a recent blog post, we told you about our wonderful programming with the Nashville Zoo. Today, I’d like to tell you about our unique collaboration with Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Nashville takes special pride in being America’s Music City!

Earlier this year, we met with the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for the first time. Around a half  million people visit this lively venue each year. Given autism’s prevalence, we know that includes thousands of children and adults with autism and their family members.

We sensed immediately that this would be a natural partnership. Together, we identified a number of ways to support the inclusion of visitors with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Materials for an autism-friendly visit
Our first goal was to develop effective support materials that families could use to get the most out of a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Together, we developed three social storiesTM with language levels to meet different needs – illustrated (right), brief and detailed. (Follow the text links to download.)

Reading such stories in advance is an important way to help a child or adult prepare for a new  experience. For example, the stories provide step by step descriptions of the visit and expectations during the performance.

Along these lines we also created a map for each of the three floors indicating which might be loud or crowded and where to find quieter areas and restrooms.

Finally, we developed a modified visual schedule showing where visitors could find displays and memorabilia of particular interest. Visitors can download all of these supports from our center’s online resources directory here.

A very special autism-friendly event
Next we collaborated to ensure that a very special community event would be inclusive and welcoming to all families – including children and adults with autism. “String City: Nashville’s Tradition of Music and Puppetry” tells the story of Nashville’s transformation in Music City. Created by Wishing Chair Productions, Nashville Public Library’s resident puppet theater, this free family program featured marionettes, rod puppets and shadow/animation. The performance involved more than fifty puppets, from the Staple Singers to The Dixie Chicks!

The show has been performed around the world. But on November 29th, we witnessed its first autism-friendly performance, thanks to the financial support of Judy and Steve Turner and the Nashville Public Library Foundation.

In the weeks leading up to the performance, our staff at TRIAD worked with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Wishing Chair Productions to modify aspects of the performance likely to increase anxiety in individuals with autism. We also designated a quiet space where families could bring their children for a break from the action.

Our staff developed another set of three developmentally tailored social stories and a parent tip sheet that families could download from our Resources Directory to prepare their children for the performance.

During the performance, we provided a visual schedule so children could anticipate what came next. We also used visual supports to convey theater rules such as using quiet voices and staying seated.

Around a hundred people attended, and their feedback was enthusiastic. We look forward to continuing to work with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Wishing Chair Productions on future performances.

In future posts, we’ll tell you about some of the other model programs we’re developing with our community partners here in Nashville. In addition to the Nashville Zoo, those other special partners include: Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Nashville Opera, Nashville Public Library, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, YMCA of Middle Tennessee and our two newest partners: Nashville Predators and Vanderbilt University Athletics.

* Learn more about the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network here.
* Find the ATN center nearest you 
* Explore our archive of ATN expert-advice blogs and news stories 


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.