Adam and Lukasz Broome, visiting the Royal Cornwall Museum
The first of a series of relaxed sessions has been held at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, to give autistic visitors a quieter and more calming experience.
Thanks to a joint initiative between the museum and autism charity Spectrum, the quarterly relaxed sessions are aimed at anyone who may benefit from a peaceful visit.
For some people with autism it can be overwhelming visiting public places such as museums, and initiatives such as the relaxed sessions can make life easier with a few simple steps, including opening early to avoid the rush, providing a sensory room, dimming lights, reducing background noise and turning off hand dryers in the toilets.
The museum also provided sensory backpacks, which included fiddle toys and ear defenders, to anyone who needed them, and a map detailing high-sensory areas and where calm spots can be found.
Celine Elliot, Engagement Officer at the Royal Cornwall Museum, said: “Thanks to Spectrum’s expert advice, we have made efforts to improve our offer to people with autism and their families. By making a few simple changes, we hope we can give them the confidence to come and visit us.
“We sent out a questionnaire through Spectrum, which helped us to make decisions. One of the big things for families was for staff to be aware that someone with autism would be visiting, thus avoiding the fear of being tutted at.
“Several families made use of the first session, with some waiting on the museum steps before we opened, which to me was a massive result. We’ve received some really good feedback too, so it’s been very gratifying.”
Father and son Adam and Lukasz Broome used the museum’s social story before going inside to help Lukasz, who has autism, familiarise himself with what he would see.
Adam said: “Lukasz really liked the small coloured lights and the chill out room was good too. It was great they had thought to switch off the hand dryers in the toilers – a really important but easily overlooked thing.”
Gavin Pedley, Manager of Spectrum’s Pearl Centre, said: “When the museum contacted us for advice and support in creating an autism-friendly session we jumped at the chance. We have worked with local cinemas in the past to provide autism-friendly screenings, which have been a great success and felt supporting the Royal Cornwall Museum was a natural progression of this.
“Some environments can be challenging for those with autism so the more we can do to support services in becoming autism-friendly spaces the better. We want to applaud the museum for what it has done and I’m sure many others will be following suit.
“We worked with Celine Elliott, the museum’s Engagement Officer, to produce visual stories to help people get an understanding of what to expect prior to their visit. This includes pictures of the entrance to the museum and important areas like where the toilets are and the calm sensory room among other things.
“This really helps autistic people build up a mental picture of the environment and what to expect, minimizing being overwhelmed by visual and sensory input on their first visit. The museum also created explorer backpacks which included things like a sensory fiddle toy and ear defenders which they were given on entering the museum.
“There was a quiet sensory room that anyone could access freely during their visit and hands-on activities were available as well. The session was also planned to take place during a time that is often quieter.”