For the past few years, the Learning and Programmes Community Engagement team have been developing a range of new activities, events and resources to support and welcome autistic children, young people and their families to the National Museum of Scotland.
For many of us, this has been a process of discovery and research – from finding out more about the way in which an autistic person perceives the world, to looking into how the Museum can deliver a better, more supportive experience during their visit. It has meant thinking about how we can do things a bit differently for all our visitors, so they feel welcomed and more confident about their trip to the museum.
Since 2015 we have been offering a series of free Early Doors (before 10am) and After Hours (after 5pm) events for autistic children and young people.
In April 2017 we opened up early for the amazing exhibition about ancient Egypt, The Tomb, providing a much quieter experience of this very popular special exhibition. During this event we also used our new ancient Egypt handling boxes to give visitors a chance to encounter real and replica artefacts – one visitor was so excited to learn they were (gently) holding real ancient Egyptian bread! Many autistic children and young people have a keen interest in a specialised topic, so the Museum with its wealth of knowledge and detailed provision of information is for some a match made in heaven.
However, through training and consultation with the parents of autistic children, we discovered the environment of the Museum is sometimes over-stimulating – uncertainty, noise, and sensory overload can all prove challenging, and for some a bit of respite, downtime or distraction is key. This feedback made us think about how we could tweak or add to a visit during normal opening hours, to make it a more relaxing and supportive experience for visiting families.
We now have some wonderful sensory backpacks, designed and blogged about by Enabler Lynsey Anderson, for use by autistic children, and to help prepare for a visit and eliminate some of the uncertainty or anxiety children might feel, a visual story to show who and what you might encounter on a visit.
Two exciting events for autistic people are coming up for Scotland’s Early Silver. For a slightly older age group (14 plus) there will be an After Hours event from 5.30-7pm on Monday 23 October (contact Laura Bennison on email@example.com for more information). On 16 December there will be an Early Doors event with Christmassy crafts as well as exclusive access to the exhibition. Alice Blackwell, exhibition curator and Glenmorangie Research Fellow in Scottish History and Archaeology, will be at both events to give visitors a short tour of the exhibition.
It’s been a real journey of discovery learning how best to support and welcome autistic children, young people and their families to the museum, and I know we’ve still a way to go. We now have a Focus Group of interested families to give us feedback and make suggestions for the future. If you would like to join this group or just discover more about forthcoming activities and resources, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m so excited and proud that we now have these fantastic events and resources to offer, so please spread the word!