The Science Museum – Early Bird Autism Session

claire 2Autism Daily Newscast recently read a blog post by ‘Tincture Of Museum’ that was posted on twitter. The post was written by Claire, an ex-librarian, researcher and museum volunteer. She is also mum to three children aged nine, five and three. Her eldest daughter was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder a year ago. Claire wrote about her own experiences about the Early Bird Sessions at the Science Museum London. This is the information on their website.

‘The Science Museum presents Early Birds, a new experience for families with members who have an Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC). On selected dates in 2013 the Museum will be open from 8:30am for families to come along and enjoy the Museum free of the general public. The Early Birds sessions will see some of our interactive galleries open exclusively to booked Early Bird guests until 11:15am with workshops, the opportunity to use the gallery, witness some thrilling demonstrations and many other activities. All of these events are completely free and suitable for families with children under the age of 14.’

Claire felt that she had to share her experiences of visiting the Museum with others.

“My two worlds are colliding for this post, museums and autism. I have thought very carefully over why I need to write it and how to write it. I hope I get it right.”

For the purposes of this article she wishes to remain anonymous.claire 4

Claire has previously worked as a librarian and researcher but last year she made the decision to stop working, this was due to a personal bereavement and her daughter finally getting a diagnosis of ASD. However Claire told Autism Daily Newscast that she still needed to do something to keep her sane.

“I love museums, I have a degree in history, and I have always wanted to work at the British Museum. Last year we were ‘volunteer family judges’ for the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award. We went around the Museum of London and it was the first time I had really watched my children, to see how they reacted not just to the exhibits and objects but the space around them. It was on this visit that my daughter had a sensory meltdown over a tweeting bird song soundtrack. She had never had a reaction as extreme as that before and it really shocked us. We did manage to calm her down and we did finish and enjoy the visit.”

Claire explains that they can go out in public places and have a good time but that you cannot always predict when a problem is going to occur.

“There was no way I could have predicted the soundtrack would have upset her. We do avoid the obvious – theme parks, rides. I think we have just accepted these are things we are not going to manage. I am not sure sometimes if it is more about us and what we think she should be enjoying as a child, rather than just taking her to places she actually enjoys. It is hard, a friend invited her on the London Eye, and I knew straight away she was never going to go”.

Claire decided to volunteer at her local museum and she told us

“It was the best decision I ever made! I am now also on their volunteer panel for participation and learning and I am helping to plan for their Heritage Lottery Bid. I have also completed projects at the Museum of London and have more planned for the New Year.”

claire 3Claire further explains

“Whilst volunteering, I have helped with school groups and really observed the impact that these visits have on the children. Every time it amazes me how creative the children are and how much they get from their visits. I see this and I know how important it is because it is not something we can manage. Occasionally we can, but on the whole we avoid these types of activities. We have to balance the anxiety of my daughter with the 5yr old who needs help making things and the youngest who doesn’t have the patience to get involved so I avoid going to organised events, they just end up being too stressful”.

Claire has a passion for museums and inclusion for everyone; she believes that many more museums should hold autism friendly visits. She gives two reasons for this.

“Experiencing the space – Autistic children need to go to and experience the museum as a sensory space. They need to learn to interact with others and their environment. It is not easy and there are often many barriers – noise, people, lights etc. But when these are overcome, the museum space provides an opportunity for autistic children to learn and grow and understand more about themselves and the world around them. The second reason is the learning environment. My daughter has severe anxieties currently focused on any separation from me. Her anxieties are often so high she can’t access her learning at school; she can’t concentrate as she thinks I am not going to pick her up after school. She struggles in assembly as she worries she is going to shout out. I am sure some of these things are familiar to other families. We use the museum experience to supplement her learning in a more unstructured way. My daughter is a bright, intelligent girl; I don’t want her autism to be a barrier to her learning. A museum environment is a perfect way to help her understand topics she is covering at school.”

Claire told Autism Daily Newscast that she did not want to write about her family to gain pity but to raise awareness of the difficulties that families can face having an autistic child when going out to public places.

“Museums have an opportunity to help our autistic children in ways we and they might not even realise. I just hope more museums take the plunge and give these events a go. It is a learning process for us too. As parents we don’t know everything and we don’t get everything right all time. We are not expecting them to either. But to try just try is the first and most important step.”

claire 1You can follow Claire’s blog here and follow her over on twitter

Science Museum website

The next early bird session is on Saturday 30th Nov
You can register for the events by phoning 0207 942 4729 during opening times
email kate.mulcahy@sciencemuseum.ac.uk