If you are the parent of a child with special needs, you undoubtedly know what a struggle it can be to find activities and/or outings for the family that are also comfortable for your child. For many children with special needs, just being in a crowd of people or being somewhere with too much noise or activity is simply too much. Since the goal of a family outing is to have fun and relax, it certainly makes no sense to take your child somewhere that creates stress. Fortunately, more and more businesses and organizations are starting to recognize the challenges families of children with special needs face – and are, even more importantly, they are beginning to do something about it. Take, for example, the Children’s Museum of Illinois. For several months now, the museum has been holding “Sensory Friendly Hours” that give children with special needs the opportunity to experience everything the museum has to offer but without the stress they would likely experience during normal operating hours.
For a child with special needs, the Children’s Museum can offer the best of everything – and the worst of everything. On the one hand, the museum has a seemingly endless number of activities that attract children of all ages to them. Many of these activities are hands on which provides children with special needs a distraction and outlet from their tendency to fidget. On the other hand, for children who have sensory issues, the bright lights, loud noises, and crowds can send their system into overload very quickly.
Knowing that children with special needs may not experience the museum the way it is intended to be enjoyed, the museum started their Sensory Friendly Hours, which are held on the first weekend of the month, and hour before the museum opens. “It is a time when the museum is turned down a little bit, so some of the exhibits aren’t turned on all the way, we have smaller crowds, it’s a little bit more accessible for families who have children with sensory processing issues or autism or other special needs.” said Abby Koester, Director of Education at the Children’s Museum of Illinois. “We wanted to offer a time where families could come together and play at the museum without their children being overwhelmed, and not enjoy the museum.”
These new quiet hours allow the children to experience all of the fun and learning at the museum. “We feel it is really important to have our families play as a whole and have a chance for kids who may not visit the museum at a normal time because it’s so loud. So to visit at a time that is a little quieter in the museum, we just want to make sure that everyone can enjoy the space and have a great time with families.” said Koester.
The idea for the Sensory Friendly Hours came from a local non-profit called “Not Forgotten.” The organization focuses on bringing together families and educators to help create supportive resources for children with Autism. Not Forgotten’s founder, Rebekeh Harrelson, along with Millikin Professor Dr. Denice Love, reached out to local organizations to ask if there was a way to create space and/or time within their organization for families with autistic children. Leading the way, the Children’s Museum of Illinois was the first organization to implement a plan to do just that with their Sensory Friendly Hours. “The museum was so open and willing and ready to do this and no questions asked. Doors are open, me and Denice were able to go in talk with staff, it was instant that they were like yes, we want to do this for families, because we are here for the families, because you have to include all families.” said Harrelson.
Harrelson’s drive and dedication to Not Forgotten comes from her own experiences as the mother of an autistic son. “It’s the only way that my son and family as a unit are able to enjoy those types of activities, so without these type of accommodations we wouldn’t be going.” she said. Harrelson is optimistic that other organizations will follow the museum’s lead and create similar programs for children with special needs. “It’s very exciting because I think that they are the first or start to a change, and hopefully other business or organizations will say hey, we don’t want to be left behind.”
Additional information about the Children’s Museum of Illinois can be found on their website.
If you have legal questions or concerns regarding children with special needs, contact the experienced Illinois estate planning attorneys at Nash, Nash, Bean & Ford, LLP by calling 309-944-2188 to schedule your appointment today.