Posts Tagged 'Autism Awareness month'

We’re Turning Five

This Saturday, April 25, we are celebrating the 5th anniversary of the DMA Autism Awareness Family Celebration. The first program took place in April 2010, tied to Autism Awareness Month, with research beginning in the summer of 2009. A frequent DMA visitor with a son on the autism spectrum sparked my interest in creating an event in which families with children on the spectrum felt welcomed and comfortable at the DMA. I found there weren’t many museums that offered programming for this audience. After discussions with special education parent groups, I discovered that very few families had ever visited the DMA with their children on the spectrum due to the uncertainty of how their child might behave when here. It became apparent that the key element for hosting a program for this audience should include the following: an event that was private for families who had kids with autism, working with an autism specialist to plan activities to meet the specific needs of children on the spectrum, and providing resources to parents about the DMA.

For our pilot program in April 2010, I worked with an autism specialist to schedule the morning’s events, connected with a music therapist specializing in working with children with autism for a performance, and created a social story so that parents registered for the event could review and plan in advance with their child. The response for the first event was overwhelming! It was important to keep the attendance relatively low, so as not to overwhelm the children—and the waiting list grew to be just as long as the list of attendees. We received supportive affirmations from grateful parents both during and after the event.

Five years later, these events are still robust and constantly adjusting to accommodate community needs. When we piloted this program, the prevalence of autism was 1 in 110 children. Since 2009, the frequency of autism has increased to 1 in 88, and more recently 1 in 68. The DMA program has evolved over the years to include themes for each event, the creation of a quiet-sensory space with the help of the School of Occupational Therapy at Texas Women’s University, and tours for teens on the spectrum.

We have learned a great deal from visitors over the years at our Autism Awareness Family Celebrations, including how important the experience is for the siblings. Annie, age 11, told us that she “like[s] coming here because no one stares at my brother.” It’s feedback like this that helps us improve the program, and we love hearing the impact the event has on our participants:

Angie and her son during an Autism Awareness Family Celebration

“Our family has a 6-year-old nonverbal son with autism, and a 3-year-old son that is typically developing. We are an active family that loves to enjoy what DFW has to offer. We’ve been going to the DMA Autism Awareness Family Celebration events for the last few years, and we absolutely love them! Having been to many other family events and museums in the area, we have never found anything like what the DMA offers. It is exciting and refreshing that the Museum provides a safe and fun sensory-friendly event for kids on the spectrum, as well as for siblings. It is good for my youngest to see other families similar to ours. We struggle with finding activities that both of my boys can enjoy. From the interactive music program to art activities and sensory toys, the DMA has thought of everything. We love watching them play and interact together! Thank you!” —Angie G.

Rachel's son attending Hands-On Summer Art Camp for Children with Autism at the DMA

Rachel’s son attending Hands-On Art Summer Camp for Children with Autism at the DMA

“Our family is so thankful for the DMA’s outreach to the autism community. From the beginning, the DMA educators have provided programming very thoughtfully organized with the input of autism specialists and parents. Programs such as the Autism Awareness Days and their Summer Camp have opened up a new avenue for families with special needs children to explore and learn in the art museum. My son has attended the Hands-On Art Summer Camp for the past four years, and I’ve been so impressed with the camp preparation, the camp curriculum, and the trained educators and volunteers who have connected children with autism to the DMA’s art collection. My son feels very welcome at the DMA and always wants to return, which is such a blessing in light of the lack of educational public programming designed for children on the autism spectrum. The DMA has found their niche offering high-quality educational opportunities for special needs populations.” —Rachel S.

As we continue to learn more about the needs of children with autism, the definition of best practices in museums programming for this audience will continue to evolve. Society’s awareness of autism is fast-growing and, hopefully, more and more public institutions will begin to offer specialized experiences for kids on the spectrum and their families. It is important that nonprofits work together to share resources and help families with children on the spectrum feel comfortable visiting museums. Whether it is offering a summer camp just for children with autism (check out this year’s Hands-On Art Summer Camp at the DMA), creating a quiet corner in a museum gallery, or making a sensory-focused guide of your institution, we want all kids to have opportunities to learn, play, and have cultural experiences with their families.

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Learn more about all of the access programs the DMA offers at DMA.org.

 Amanda Blake is the Head of Family, Access, and School Experiences at the DMA.

Autism Awareness at the DMA: A Father’s Perspective

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Four times a year we host an Autism Awareness Family Celebration at the Museum for children with autism and their families. Families have fun together at this special event in the Museum’s Center for Creative Connections for two hours before the Museum opens to the public.

In April, we recognized Autism Awareness month with an April 2 Autism Awareness Family Celebration in collaboration with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The morning event focused on music as Jaap van Zweden, Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and his wife, Aaltje van Zweden-van Buuren joined us. A Dallas Symphony Orchestra string quintet performed, and Jaap van Zweden talked about movement as he waved a colorful streamer in the air along with children. Aaltje van Zweden-van Buuren shared a compelling story about her family’s experience using music therapy with her son, an individual with autism.

I had the joy of talking with an enthusiastic and involved father at our recent event; Denny Singh is clearly his son’s number one fan.

Denny and Sohan

What three words would you use to describe your family?
After my son’s diagnosis:  strongER, as in “what doesn’t kill you makes you . . . “; closER, as in redefining the word “love” and spending more time together; and MORE appreciative of what many take for granted, like our son playing with a friend.

What types of activities does your family enjoy together?
Shopping while letting my son take photos of stores (his current obsession), visiting museums and the aquarium and zoo, going to water parks, and hanging out with his beloved cousins.

What is unique about your son?
His quirky, outgoing personality (e.g., asking people about their rings and jewelry), his grasp of technology and working a smartphone better than his parents, his empathy and ability to care, and his effort to overcome challenges and inspire us to be better people while guiding us on this unexpected journey.

What do you like most about the Autism Awareness Family Celebrations? 
To borrow from a Visa commercial:
Admission to the Autism Awareness Family Celebrations: Free
Additional expenses like supplies for crafts and fun activities: Free
Creating a safe environment where families and their children are welcomed, supported, and valued: PRICELESS

Have the events changed your perception about visiting an art museum with your family?
The events have empowered our family to be more involved in the community and not be afraid of activities or environments because of autism. And just as important as the event are the tickets given to families for a follow-up visit to the DMA any other day like any other family.

The most recent Autism Awareness Family Celebration was focused on music. What is the role of music in your family? 
Music plays an important role in our family, especially for our son. He loves music and all instruments, which he knows by heart (confusing a clarinet with a bass clarinet is a no-no!). While riding in the car, he asks to listen to a specific CD over and over again. Other parents tell me this isn’t just an autism thing, although his memorizing eighteen songs by number is! For those with autism, music has been shown to teach language and improve overall functioning.

Sohan and his family meet Jaap van Zweden

Do you have any advice about visiting museums for other parents who have a child with autism?
JUST GO!!! Regardless of your child’s “level of functioning,” he or she deserves the opportunity to experience the beauty and culture of the arts. As communities become more inclusive and welcoming, it is our duty as parents to take our children out into them. Take it slow at first to make a visit a positive experience for all. Most of all, remember, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I eagerly look forward to seeing you at the next Autism Awareness Family Celebration at the DMA!

Denny, Su Chen, and Sohan with Jaap van Zweden

Amanda Blake is Manager of Family Experiences and Access Programs.


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