Going to a museum is a fabulous way to educate yourself, interact with the material, and have some fun at the same time. But for people with autism and their families, the excitement of the experience is often ruined by crowded spaces, bright lights, loud noises, and other overwhelming sensory input.
Luckily, more and more places across the nation are becoming more aware and accepting of people with autism and sensory-processing disorders and making an effort to be more welcoming and accommodating to all individuals. Some of these include cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, cruise lines, amusement parks, and even entire communities. And now the Cleveland Museum of Natural History will join their ranks—at least for a day.
On Sunday, July 15th, 2018, the museum is opening its doors at 9:30 a.m., two and a half hours early, to allow people with autism and their families to peruse the museum at their own pace. Not all the exhibits will be open, but those that are will have their lights dimmed and sounds quieted or shut off. Exhibits like Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs and places like the Shafran Planetarium will be modified for minimal sensory input and maximum comfort.
Aside from the actual exhibits, there will be designated rest areas for those who need a break from the sensory input. The museum restaurant will have limited services available starting at 9:30 a.m., and the gift shop will open at 11:30 a.m. If weather permits, museum-goers can even spend time outside with some friendly animals.
At noon, the museum will open its doors to other patrons and will become its noisy bustling self again. Guests with autism and sensory disorders are encouraged to stay for as long as they feel comfortable.
The event will be free to members and $12 per person for non-members. If you’d like to prepare your child or another person with autism for the experience of visiting a museum, you can even download a free “Visual Story” from the museum’s website to help you properly explain what it will be like.
While a few hours of sensory friendliness on a single Sunday is a far cry from a full-on overhaul of the museum, we hope that the success of this event will inspire both the staff at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and other organizations to continue to work toward full-time autism friendliness.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?