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A museum can be a busy, daunting and overwhelming place, particularly if you find unknown surroundings challenging. Today is World Autism Awareness Day – an ideal opportunity to highlight a set of resources recently launched at the Museum, which help to make the environment more accessible to all. The resources are aimed at families with children on the autistic spectrum and provide a visual and descriptive introduction to the Museum, including pictures of everything from cockroaches to carpets and the café!

An example of the clear images which help prepare for a museum visit

The idea for the resources came from a member of the public who in Summer 2012 asked: did we have a guide she could use to help prepare her son, who is on the spectrum, to visit the Museum? The answer at that point was ‘No’, but it got us thinking…

So while this Museum was under wraps for a year having its roof restored, we scoured the websites of museums on both sides of the Atlantic trying to find out what other places were up to. Although, in one way, we were reassured to discover we weren’t alone in our lack of resources, we were still surprised by how few places did provide anything.

Though we eventually modelled our resources on those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, our budget sadly couldn’t stretch to a trip to New York. We found inspiration and support a lot closer to home, fortunately, and we spent a day with staff at the Science Museum in London. Their Early Birds programme has proven a great success, giving families exclusive access to the museum before other visitors are let in. We hope to pilot a similar event later this year.

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The front page of the new resources

And so began the creative process – or rather not-so-creative process. For me, the biggest challenge was altering my writing style. I have to admit that this blog post is not particularly autism-friendly, with its idioms and (attempts at) humour. Sentences like ‘Walk when you are inside the museum. Do not run.’ are more typical of the resources – direct and to the point – no chattiness, no alliteration.

Pages introducing the Museum's feely boxes and DNA model
Pages introducing the Museum’s feely boxes and DNA model

Anyway, fast-forward several more months, and we’ve now had the resources up on the Museum website for a few weeks. They’re still very much a work in progress, but they’re a really positive start.

As for the mum who initially emailed us… we’ve kept in touch, and in her last email she said, ‘I remember contacting you one summer wishing that there was something I could just download and print off that would allow me to do that all important pre-work … I think it looks fabulous and I will be trying it out during the holidays coming up.’

You can download the resources from the Museum’s Visiting Us pages

More information about autism can be found through the National Autistic Society


Caroline Cheeseman, Volunteers and Outreach Officer

Published by

More than a Dodo

I'm Public Engagement Manager at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and I look after permanent displays and other interpretation. I do a bit of social media on the side, too.

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