The Florida Museum of Natural History’s “Museum for Me Sensory-friendly” event will take place on August 7

BY GABRIELLA WITKOWICH, Chronicle of Alachua Corresponding

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Museum of Natural History will host a free “Museum for Me Sensory-Friendly” event on August 7 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This event is designed for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as the community with special needs. ‘Sense Sensitive’ is a term used to describe changing a space to be more soothing to an individual’s senses.

Catherine Carey is Educational Programs Coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The museum originally planned a sensory event to celebrate National Autism Month in April, Carey said. Now the museum has expanded the program to several times a year.

Attendance at the event is expected to range from 30 to 70 attendees, Carey said.

This event allows attendees to experience sensory panels that highlight what to anticipate and provides a map for all attendees to navigate through the museum.

The natural history exhibits and discovery area are open to attendees during the event. These exhibitions allow individuals to see collections of archaeology, ethnography, natural sciences and paleontology.

The “Museum for Me Sensory-Friendly” event also features a quiet room with low lighting and self-guided activities that attendees can take advantage of if they become overstimulated, Carey said.

Museum volunteers and staff will be available throughout the exhibits at this event. There will also be attendees with resources from UF’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the event.

Adults and children with autism and their friends, families and caregivers can explore the Museum at their own pace in a peaceful, less crowded environment, Carey said. “Our goal is to provide a comfortable and welcoming environment for adults and children with autism,” Carey said.

The main purpose of this event is to familiarize attendees with the museum and encourage adults and children with autism to visit it again during regular hours, Carey said. The museum does not open to the public until 1 p.m. on August 7.

This event gets the community involved and allows for an inclusive experience for all attendees, Carey said. The “Museum for Me Sensory-friendly” event is also open to anyone with special needs.

Yoko Fisher is the director of the Florida Autism Center in Gainesville. Fisher said sensory friendliness may feel different for everyone with autism.

People on the autism spectrum process information differently than their peers, Fisher said. This means that people with autism absorb more information than others and can be overwhelmed by a situation. This is called sensory overload or overstimulation.

Some people are more sensitive to sounds, while others are more sensitive to textures. Fisher said the usual museum experience can be overwhelming for people with autism because of its different textures as well as noises.

“Having some kind of time or event designated for people with disabilities is something that will have a positive impact on this population,” Fisher said.

Fisher said, “The Museum for Me Sensory social event creates awareness of what it means to be sensory and what a sensory museum can look like.” This event gives people with autism the opportunity to be a part of something they otherwise couldn’t do due to overstimulation.

“This sensory event will be a great opportunity for people with autism to experience the museum in a way that suits them and their needs,” Fisher said.

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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