As a museum educator with a special needs child (SNC), it is no surprise that I am interested in museum access. During winter break I usually take my boys to at least one museum; a children’s museum or an art museum with programs for special needs children. This week, however, I veered off script.
For weeks I have been wanting to catch an art show at a nearby gallery. Although this art space was not ideal for my youngest son who is on the autism spectrum, I felt that my older son would benefit from this display as it was in line with what he was learning in school. But again, this was a regular gallery, a college art gallery, a gallery that has no provisions for a special needs child so do I dare take my sensory needy, touchy feely, restless child to this kind of gallery?
I bit the bullet and did it. But not without some planning. Here are my tips on how to to enjoy a “typical museum gallery” with a special needs child like mine:
1. Keep it local
It just so happened that the exhibit I wanted to view was in my borough, this worked out great for us. If you want to spend the day looking at art with your SNC, check out local galleries and museums. The commute is shorter, and should things go south, at least you will be close to home.
2. Call ahead of time
I was already aware of this particular gallery’s space and knew it would be a good choice for us. Calling ahead and inquiring about the gallery/museum’s physical layout and what they have to offer, cuts anxiety and helps you be prepared.
3. Choose a small gallery or museum
A smaller space might provide a sense of calm for your child and help you navigate the area better with him/her. It also gives you a sense of completion. This helped us this week during our visit. I got to see every single art work which made me feel quite accomplished.
4. Early is best
Arriving at your destination earlier in the day also provides a sense of calm as there will be less people, less distractions, and less sensory overload.
5. Put something in your child’s hands
My son loves to touch EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. That’s who he is. So if I take him to a place where there are objects begging to be touched, I better offer something that is as equally enticing. My son loves strings so I usually give him a string when we go out to keep his hands busy and keep him from biting himself, which is another issue. But you might also consider something textured, one of his own paintings, a sensory toy, anything that will keep his hands off the art work.
6. Plan to eat afterwards
If you managed to pull this off, it’s time to celebrate! I knew there was a pizza place located right across the street from the gallery so the plan was to eat there afterwards. Unfortunately I didn’t follow rule number three and by the time we left the gallery, it was well into lunch time and no seats available in the restaurant. If I would have followed my own advice, and left a little earlier, this would have worked, and been the icing on the cake. Instead, we ate at a place closer to home which turned out okay, thank God!
I hope some of these tips can help you enjoy art with your SNC even if the museum/gallery is not as accessible as you would hope. In less than ideal situations it’s always about finding a solution and enjoying time together with the ones you love.
*Vintage post from 2016