The story below is written by Marianne Sullivan, Autism Speaks' Managing Director of Programs and Services - West, and the mother of an adult with autism.
Last Saturday, the San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, Calif. hosted “Play Your Way,” an interactive event-filled evening for children with autism from 2 to 15 years old and for their families.
The evening was created out of the museum’s “Autism Initiative.” It is held four times a year. Last Saturday, 80 families accepted the invitation and, from what I heard and saw, were glad they did.
Kids are encouraged to learn through "hands-on" interactions - touching, exploring, manipulating and experimenting. They do this with water pools, art materials, musical creations and climbing structures.
To help prepare kids for their visit in advance, an interactive website with social stories was available (both a short and long version), along with tips for parents. The museum also provided their staff with advanced training to ensure a successful experience for the families. Finally, the museum reached out to local family autism organizations to invite them to join the event. Autism Speaks was pleased to participate in this innovative family event.
Donna Butcher, manager for the evening event, said, "We know families of children with autism often avoid museums and other busy social environments. Sometimes kids find the crowds and noise overwhelming.”
She adds, "Autism makes it tough on families trying to find fun places to go and typical activities in the community. As a result, the museum wants to offer an event that is especially designed for children with special needs, bringing together their siblings and parents for a fun filled evening." Donna comments, “We love to have families relax and not to have to be worried about their child’s symptomatic behaviors. It also is an added bonus for families to get to know each other and to learn about local resources.” The museum is very pleased with the results so far and hopefully can expand the program as the need arises.
A highlight of Saturday’s event was a memorable performance by Dream Achiever, a music group made up of talented young musicians affected by autism. The audience enjoyed the show and some even danced to the music.
“Play Your Way” honors a museum-wide goal of being inclusive by creating a comfortable, welcoming and educationally stimulating place for children with autism and their families. It encourages connection between the families and well-informed community resources.
For information about the Children's Discovery Museum’s Autism Initiative, visit www.cdm.org/autism.org
Autism Speaks is committed to promoting inclusion of children and adults with autism across all programs and organizations for families. Leading the Way: Autism-Friendly Youth Organizations is a guide for organizations to ensure that youth with autism have the same formative experiences through community programs that are available to their typical peers. The purpose of this guide is to better prepare community organizations to serve youth and families with autism. The information will help organizations learn to integrate youth with autism into existing programs, communicate with parents, and train their staff.