It’s important for children with special needs to have the opportunity to socialize, learn, and have fun in public spaces that are made for kids. Children’s museums are great places for children to explore different sensory experiences, play with other children, and learn about a variety of topics, like nature, science, and art! There are a few children’s museums that have special programs and infrastructure to support children with special needs. Here are a few of our favorites!
The Smithsonian Museums
The Smithsonian has taken steps to make exhibits accessible to everyone. “Morning at the Museum” is a series of pre-visit materials that were developed by a Community Advisory Committee comprised of museum educators, exhibit designers, professionals who work with children on the Autism Spectrum, parents, and self-advocates. These materials help families prepare for a fun day at the museums! There are also gallery talks conducted in American Sign Language and tours for the vision and hearing impaired. For adolescents, there are paid internship opportunities through the program Access to Opportunities. Check out the website for more info!
The National Museum of American History
In addition to being wheelchair accessible and friendly to service animals and service-animals-in-training, the National Museum of American History in D.C. also offers Mornings at the Museum on select days. During these days, visitors with disabilities can visit the museum early for a low-stimulation experience. The museum also offers pre-visit materials that include tip sheets, sensory maps, social stories, and visual schedules for the exhibitions America on the Move and the Star-Spangled Banner.
Four times a year, Port Discovery, in Baltimore, hosts “Discovery Days.” These are days when the museum takes special measures to make the environment more comfortable for children with disabilities. Lights and sounds are lowered to create a more comfortable atmosphere for children to play. The museum also offers Scripted Stories, which are stories that parents can customize and read to children to prepare them for the new experience of visiting the museum. Finally, when visiting, families have a chance to meet with others who have similar life experiences.
Please Touch Museum
The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia is equipped to provide a fun experience to all children with special needs whenever they choose to visit! You can download the museum’s 16-page booklet, “Museum Stories”, that shows pictures of all the experiences at the museum, even waiting in line at the beginning! While visiting, accessibility and inclusion trained staff can help families and direct them to the “Quiet Space of the Day” when kids need a sensory break. The wheelchair-accessible Please Touch Playhouse Theater offers 25-minute performances every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Throughout the museum, fun characters stroll around and talk about important lessons, like washing your hands and making friends.
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh also has a museum booklet called “Museum Stories”, which describes the museum from a child’s point of view. The museum also has items available to borrow during your visit, including wheelchairs, sound-blocking headphones, sensory blankets and vests, wrist assistance cuffs, and Versatile Velcro lap tables that adjust to fit most wheelchairs. The entire museum, except for the Gravity Room in the attic, is accessible by wheelchair.
The Connections Therapy Center
The Connections Therapy Center serves families of children and adolescents with disabilities and special needs. We are a team of experts in the fields of pediatric speech, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, and behavioral sciences. As a team, we offer intensive hands-on therapy for children and adolescents, as well as informative and useful resources for families. If you are interested in learning more about what we can do to help your family, visit us online or give us a call at (202) 561-1110 (Washington, D.C. office) or (301) 577-4333 (Lanham office). Want to get more information on how to help your child thrive? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest.