In my previous post I wrote about my favourite local museums, mainly as a way to record some of the lovely places I have visited with my children.
Today I am sharing my tips on getting the most out of museums for children who are on the autism spectrum. My tips are not meant to be an exhaustive list in any way. It would be impossible to think of everything as all our children are individuals with very different needs.
Nevertheless I have included some prompts to hopefully help you think about how you can get the most from a visit to a museum.
- Consider the size and type of museum. Can your child manage a large museum? If not think about focusing on one a part of the museum or choose a museum that is smaller. Think about choosing a museum that focuses on your child’s special interests – this works well for us as it provides motivation, engagement and distraction.
- Contact the museum to find out about how they can help you and your family. They may be able to let you in without queuing, they may be able to suggest the best time to visit. Also request leaflets, maps or guides in advance of the visit and check that if your child wants to look at something specific that it will be on display on the day. There is nothing worse than a child’s disappointment when they find that something is not there when you visit. As I have experienced, disappointment can trigger a meltdown so it really is worth checking that something will be on display when you go.
- Think about sensory needs. Many museums offer multi sensory experiences which can be overwhelming for our autistic children. Consider how you will manage this. My son benefits from taking his hoody with him which he finds reassuring and soothing when he is in a difficult environment. But a fiddly object or something squeezy or chewable can also help as can ear plugs or ear muffs if it is a noisy place.
- Think about when you go. Crowded places can be difficult for our autistic children so try and pick a quiet time. First thing in the morning or late on in the afternoon are suggestions but it is worthwhile asking the museum when their quiet times are.
- Time out. Find out if there is a cafe or picnic area attached to the museum. A cafe or picnic area can offer a welcome break to tired minds and tired legs. Otherwise find out if there is a quiet space somewhere for your child to recover from any sensory overload, should he or she need it. Also find out whether the toilets are accessible for your child’s needs.
- There may also be a shop attached to the museum. Think about how you will manage this. Shops can be difficult for our children due to sensory issues and the stress over choosing how to spend any pocket money. However many of the shops can offer cheap pocket money toys and postcards which gives an opportunity for your child to buy something as a momento of their visit.
- Introduce your child to the idea of visiting a museum, explain to them what is there and what it will be like, show them pictures of the museum and take them on an online tour if possible. Some museums have fantastic websites with the opportunity to go on online tours. It was this that enabled our daughter to manage a school trip to a Space Centre so successfully.
- Think about taking someone else with you so you can share the care, particularly if you have more than one child on the spectrum or if it is your first trip. I have found that if my husband focuses on my son and I on my daughter for example, we can devote one to one time with each child. Our children can then focus on their interests which can distract them from any sensory or social difficulties.
- Plan a visual timetable and show it to your child. Incorporate transport times, arrival and departure times, lunch breaks etc.
- And finally, think about what you can do if your child tends to run off or wander. Brightly coloured clothing, an alert card, personal tracking devices are some ideas as well as thinking about whether your child would be able to seek assistance from museum staff or go to a particular meeting point if he/she is lost.
And with that, I hope you do get to experience a museum with your child. There are some wonderful museums these days and if you prepare well and pick an autism friendly museum, I am sure you will have as positive experience as I have done.