Florida Museum of Natural History’s “Museum for Me Sensory-friendly” event to be held August 7

BY GABRIELLA WITKOWICH, Alachua Chronicle Correspondent

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

This event is designed for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder, as well as the special needs community. “Sensory-friendly” is a term used to describe changing a space to be more calming to an individual’s senses. 

Catherine Carey is the education programs coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The museum had originally scheduled a sensory-friendly event to celebrate National Autism month in April, Carey said. Now the museum has expanded the program to several times a year.

Attendance for the event is expected to range anywhere from 30 participants to 70 participants, Carey said.

This event allows participants to experience sensory-friendly signs that highlight what to anticipate and provides a map for all participants to navigate throughout the museum. 

The natural history exhibits and Discovery Zone are open to explore for participants during the event. These exhibits allow individuals to view collections in archeology, ethnography, natural sciences, and paleontology. 

The “Museum for Me Sensory-Friendly” event also offers a quiet room with low lighting and self-guided activities for participants to enjoy if they become overstimulated, Carey said. 

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

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

The main goal of this event is to allow participants to become familiar with the museum and encourage autistic adults and children to visit again during normal hours, Carey said. The museum does not open to the public until 1 p.m. on Aug. 7.

 This event allows the community to be involved and allows for an inclusive experience for all participants, 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 that sensory-friendly can look different for everyone on the autism spectrum. 

Individuals on the autism spectrum process information in a different manner than their peers, Fisher said. This means that people with autism take in more information than others and can become overwhelmed in a situation. This is known as sensory overload or overstimulation.

Some individuals are more hypersensitive to sounds, while others are more sensitive to textures. Fisher said that the regular museum experience can be overwhelming for autistic individuals due to its different textures as well as noises.

“Having any sort of time or event designated for people with disabilities is something that will positively impact that population,” Fisher said.

Fisher said, “The Museum for Me Sensory-friendly event creates awareness about what it means to be sensory-friendly and what sensory-friendly in a museum can look like.” This event gives people with autism the opportunity to be a part of something that they otherwise would not be able to because of overstimulation.

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