Adapting Tours for Children with Autism

I recently received an email asking how our access tours for students with special needs differ from our general school tours–and more specifically, how our school programs are adapted for children on the autism spectrum.

This is a difficult question to answer without knowing more about the specific needs and abilities of each individual student in the class. Yet knowing little to nothing about each student’s disability is one of the most consistent challenges facing our access educators, a wonderful group of museum educators who are trained specifically to work with children who have developmental, learning and physical disabilities.

One approach to this dilemma is having educators speak with classroom teachers before their visit to The Jewish Museum. Questions targeting specific activities they might do in the museum setting are most helpful, such as: I was thinking of having your group draw an ancient artifact, how would your students respond? Or: Do your students have any tactile sensitivities, because I was hoping we could use sand and clay in the art studio.

In the galleries, instead of having kids with autism or other developmental disabilities engage with art mostly through discussion, our access educators might stress movement, drawing, searching for details, or other activities that allow participants to respond to artworks in a nonverbal way. These activities can, of course, be paired with discussion, depending on the abilities of the group, but the kinds of questions asked and the language used might be different than with a general education class. For example, structure and repetition might be more important, so I might repeat a set of three questions at each artwork to reinforce continuity.

We would also think differently about the final art project based on the needs of the group –for example using certain materials rather than others if several children in a class have sensory issues. Educators might stress the process of experimenting with a new material rather than the final product. Again, these are just a few possible ideas for adapting museum tours for children with autism, and ones that can greatly benefit all kids, regardless of their abilities.

Related Links:
School Tours:
Access School Tours
Workshop for Educators: Curious George Saves the Day, Tuesday, April 13
Workshop for Families: Curious George Saves the Day, Sunday, April 25
Blog Posts: Accessibility at The Jewish Museum