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KCA London presentation - making experiences accessible for visitors with autism
A view from a sibling:Facilitating experiences for visitors with autism.Leila ChapmanKCA London firstname.lastname@example.org
Who I am:Twelve years experience in operating and creatingvisitor experiencesStarted career at the Science Museum, LondonPart of the KCA London partnership
Who I am not:A doctorA psychologistA pathologistsA therapist…
What’s the big deal?New data suggests 1 in 110 children have a ASD(National Centre on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities)
The potential to provide positive experiencesHuge potential for science centres, Museum andattractions to provide inclusive, engaging and lifeenhancing experiences for people with autism andtheir families.
What am I going to talk about:What autism isCommon difficulties for people with autismCharacteristic behaviours for people with autismWhat we can doHints and tips
What is autism?A lifelong developmental disability that affects how aperson communicates with, and relates to, peoplearound them.Also affects how they make sense of the world aroundthem.‘..the world is a mass of people, placesand events which I struggle to makesense of’.
What is autism?Spectrum condition – may share characteristics, butcondition will affect them in different ways.ASD
Common areas of difficultyCharacteristics vary from one person to another butgenerally divided into three main groups:•Difficulty with social communication•Difficulty with social interaction•Difficulty with social imagination.
Social CommunicationDifficulty with verbal and non verbal language.Many have a very literal understanding of language,thinking people mean exactly what they say.Find it difficult to understand:• Facial expressions or tone of voice• Jokes or sarcasm• Idioms, metaphors and figurative speech.‘My teacher told me to pull my socks up.I bent down and did just that.’‘The sign said remain seated. That’s why I did not getoff the bus.’
Social CommunicationMathematics and physics may appeal to people withASD:“Communicating science concepts is easy – everyonespeaks the same language. When you go to a foreigncountry people make an effort to speak clearly andwithout ambiguities, because they know that if theydont, you may not understand.” Michael Barton, It’s Raining Cats and Dogs
Social CommunicationSome people may not speech, or have limited speech.May understand what other people say to them, butprefer to use alternative means of communicationthemselves:•Makaton•Picture Exchange Communication symbols (PECS)•Noises•Repetitive movements
Social CommunicationOthers will have great language skills, but may find ithard to understand the give-and-take of conversations.Echolalia.Talking at length about their own interests – andnothing else.Little or no eye contact.Preoccupied with a thought or object.
Social Communication2002 study (NAS, UK) explored why Thomas the TankEngine is so popular with children with autism and Aspergersyndrome:•Characters have friendly faces, often with exaggeratedexpressions.•Expressions are set for some time, and often accompanied bysimple narration explaining the emotion (‘Thomas was sad’)•The characters play predictable roles.•The narration is calm and clear, and changes aresignposted clearly.•The stop-action photography allows the background and sceneryto remain still, allowing for greater focus on the "big picture" withless distraction.
How can you support social communication forpeople with autism?Think about the language you use in graphics andpresentations: be clear, consistent, and give time toprocess.Be creative with communication – icons, images, bodylanguage, colour.Makaton!Patience, kindness.Work hard to make links to the everyday– systems learning.
How can you support social communication forpeople with autism?Video labels for mechanical exhibits.
Social InteractionSocialising doesn’t come naturally – we have to learnit.People with autism often have difficulty recognising orunderstanding other people’s emotions or feelings, andexpressing their own.
Social InteractionThey may:•Not understand the unwritten social rules, such asstanding too close to other people.•Appear to be insensitive.•Prefer to spend time alone.•Do not seek comfort.•‘Inappropriate’ behaviour.
Social InteractionCommon to exhibit unusual behaviours or interests.Repetitive behaviours also common:•Hand flapping, rocking, jumping up and down;•Compulsory behaviours: Arranging items in a certainorder or manner;•Ritualistic behaviours that are limited in focus, such asa certain object or television programme.May want to make friends: but don’t know how.
How can you support social interaction forpeople with autism?Train your staff – visitors will take their lead.Provide a space where they can take a break from thehub of activity.Multiuser exhibits can break barriers to interacting withothers.Popular items or objects (trains, buses):trail opportunities?
How can you support social interaction forpeople with autism?What exhibits operate use repetitive movements?
Social ImaginationAllows us to understand and predict other people’sbehaviour, make sense of abstract ideas, imaginesituations outside of immediate routine.For people with autism, it can be hard to:•Understand and interpret other people’s thoughts,feelings and actions;•Predict what will happen next;•Understand the concept of danger or threats;•Engage in imaginative play;•Prepare for change and plan for the future;•Cope in new or unfamiliar situations.
How can you support social imagination forpeople with autism?Be extra aware of danger or risk on gallery.Avoid terms such as ‘imagine’ or put ‘yourself in placeof’…Think about props and gallery extensions – what objectsor tools can help connect science principles to everydaylife?
How can you support social imagination forpeople with autism?Ask descriptive questions based on sensory discoveries:‘is it rough or smooth?’, ‘is it new or old?’, ‘is it heavy orlight?’… will encourage investigation.
Characteristic behavioursVary from one person to another, but commonbehaviours are:•Love of routines•Sensory sensitivity•Special interests•Learning disabilities
Love of routines‘One young person with autism attended a day service.He would be dropped off by taxi, walk up to the door ofthe day service, knock on it and be let in.One day, the door opened before he could knock anda person came out, rather than go in through the opendoor, he returned to the taxi and began his routineagain.’
Love of routinesMay prefer a fixed daily routine so that they know whatis going to happen in a confusing and unpredictableworld.Coming to your attraction rather than following normalroutine can be an ordeal in itself!Can cope better if prepared in advance.
Mishkat is about energy. We use energy towatch television, drive cars and cook food.
Energy is all around us. We can captureenergy from the sun, wind, water and from theheat under the ground.
You can explore where energy comes from andhow we use it at Mishkat.
You will be met by our friendly hosts atreception. They will keep your bags and coatssafe and show you where the toilets are.
In the Group Space, you will meet ourFacilitators. They are here to help you discoverabout energy.
You can fly a plane, send a rocket into space,make a hot air balloon float into the air... thereare lots of fun things for you to do and see!
In the Energy Hall, there is a wavy table for youto touch and play with.
You will also go into Powering Our Future,where there are lots of things fo you to touchand explore.
Sensory sensitivity‘Peter loves dancing at parties. But attending a partymake him anxious, as he is terrified that there will beballoons. For weeks beforehand, he will cover his earswith his hands and shout ‘bang!’”People with autism may experience sensory sensitivityin one or more of the five senses.
Sensory sensitivityA person’s senses are either intensified(hypersensitive) or under-sensitive (hypo-sensitive).Hypersensitive:A person with autism may find certain backgroundsounds unbearably loud or distracting – it can causeanxiety or even physical pain.Sensory stimulating places may be too overwhelming.
Sensory sensitivityEureka! Children’s Museum Break to Play project
Sensory sensitivityProvides a welcoming environment for children withASD and their parents, carers and siblings, in whatwould otherwise be a challenging environment.Sessions offer families the chance to play together withadditional support from the Eureka! team.First programme took place on Saturday morningsExperiences were tailored to the needs of their family.Ear defenders offered to explore the galley.
Sensory sensitivityHypo-sensitiveMay not feel pain or extremes of temperature.Some may rock, spin, flap hands to stimulatesensation, help with balance and posture or deal withstress.May also find it harder to use their body awarenesssystem, making it difficult to avoid obstructions, standat appropriate distances or carry out fine motor tasks..
Special interestsMany people with autism have intense specialinterests.Can change overtime, or be lifelong.May be unusual….
Special interestsInterest can be channelled into subject areas:Buses – TransportRubbish – RecyclingPebbles – Geology.
Final thoughtsDon’t leave out the siblings or parents!Be creative with communications.Invest in staff.Create an ethos of empathy not sympathy.Consider the entire visitor experience – pre visit,queuing, on gallery trails..
Final thoughtsDon’t be afraid to ask questions.Children of autism grown and become autistic adults.Although there are characteristics, they are individuals.No substitute for kindness and patience..