Museums Offer Special Programs for Kids with Autism

Museum programs for kids with autism

Museums offer unique educational and entertainment opportunities for children and adults alike, but for kids with autism and their families, visits to these cultural havens can be problematic. However, there are dozens of children’s museums and other museums around the United States that offer special programs for children with autism.

All about museums and autism programs

Museums are a double-edged sword: they offer a wide variety of sensory stimulation, which is something children with autism are attracted to and enjoy. However, the degree and presentation of that stimulation can easily be overwhelming for these children (and adults with autism), so the typical museum environment is generally too much for them to handle.

That’s why some children’s museums and general museums have established special programs for children with autism. These programs are available in different formats, depending on the museum. (Note: There is also a nationwide movie theater program for kids with autism as well.)

For example, some museums offer a specific day and time each month or at particular intervals when children with autism and their families are the only people permitted to come to the museum. The museums make certain environmental changes to accommodate the children, such as dimmed lights, and parents can network with each other.


Special museum times for kids with autism and their families also allow for crowd control (so the children are not overstimulated), and any melt downs or other behavioral challenges are understood without embarrassment by all attendees. Children also can have better access to activities and exhibits that interest them.

Note that children’s museums and other museums do not bar kids with autism and their families from visiting their facilities at any time they please. However, parents who know or believe their child will become anxious or uncomfortable going to a museum during general business hours have an option provided by some museums.

Some museums with autism programs

  • Among the museums with autism events or programs is the Please Touch Museum for kids in Philadelphia. The facility offers Play without Boundaries, an hour set aside for children with special needs such as autism.
  • Another is the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire’s Autism Partnership Program called Exploring Our Way. Currently, the museum has established the second Sunday of each month from 10 AM to noon for this program, offering children with autism and their families free admission, a safe environment, networking for parents, and special materials and resources.
  • On the first Saturday of each month, Seattle Children’s Museum dims the lights and reduces the sound in their facility to welcome kids with autism. The Sensory Sensitive Hours at the museum is a partnership with Autism Speaks.
  • In Acton, Massachusetts, the Discovery Museums offer the Especially for Me program for families with children on the autism spectrum. This program provides free evenings at the museum and is offered in conjunction with the Autism Alliance of MetroWest.
  • Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh offers special Autism Access events for families of kids with ASD. You can sign up for free on the website to receive alerts on upcoming programs and events.

If you have a child with autism and you have stayed away from museums because you’re afraid your kid may act out and/or be overwhelmed, you can check with the Autism in the Museum website for more information or contact your local children’s museum and other museums to see if they have particular events. You may be surprised how many museums offer special programs for children with autism.

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