Miami Children’s Museum on Watson Island celebrated the first anniversary of its sensory-friendly program in July by adding an additional Sunday morning option with the help of community partners the Miami Foundation and the Miami Marlins. About 1,800 visited the museum last year for its Sensory Saturdays.
“It’s a wonderful program that came out of programming we were doing for children at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. We got such wonderful feedback from that we decided to implement the second Saturday morning of the month to open early, an inclusive, accessibility event,” said Deborah Spiegleman, chief executive officer and executive director of Miami Children’s Museum. “Children with autism or different issues need a lower sensory environment and we want families to interact and network.”
Along with lowered lights and sound, a yoga room and cool down room, the museum created an illustrated storybook to introduce families to museum offerings.
“Oftentimes, when you take an autistic child somewhere, part of it is the fear of the unknown. So we created a pictorial picture book so families can become familiar with the museum before they come and structure a child’s visits according to their needs,” Spiegleman said.
Similarly, the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs has created a “Going to the Show” guide to prepare new audiences for a live performing arts experience, said Francine Andersen, chief of arts education. The guide is accessible online at www.miamidadearts.org/artskidsmiami.aspx.
The All Kids Included initiative’s latest theater to provide sensory-friendly Saturday performances is Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables.
“I like taking my daughter to plays but it’s difficult because she’d make noise and is sensitive to things,” said Craig Leen, the city attorney for Coral Gables. “It’s nice what they are doing. They’ve been talking to experts to make sure the effects are limited and there is not as much noise. The lights will be better. They [the kids] can make noise and it’s not a big deal, which is a huge thing for me because then I can’t relax. Other people don’t understand. You want them to hear so you leave, or a lot of people don’t bring their kids.”
But to avoid taking part in these outings would be heartbreaking for the Leen family.
“The difficult part is you really want to communicate with your child, what their wants, needs and desires are,” he said. “With autism, sometimes that’s very difficult. My daughter is often in her own world and she’s very happy. When she sees water or feels grass she loves it but loves it in a different way than we do and gets totally engrossed in it. Sometimes you can’t share that world with your child. For a lot of reasons, you need this sort of play hour or a play where they think of the sensitivities of a child with autism.”
Actors’ Playhouse adopted the Sensory Friendly Saturday performances program for its production of Pied Piper in July and plans to hold four more presentations in its 2013-14 Musical Theatre for Young Audiences season, beginning with the opener, Miss Nelson Is Missing on Oct. 19.
“There’s a need for it,” said Barbara Stein, Actors’ Playhouse’s executive producing director. “Everybody knows somebody who has a family member or someone they know who has autism or sensory disorders like Aspergers. Our goal is to give an enriching experience to everyone who comes here.”
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