Autism friendly museums and attractions

The nation's most-visited national park is also one of the best for leaf peeping. The fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains arrive as early as mid-September at higher elevations and work their way down. Take a drive along Clingmans Dome Road or the Blue Ridge Parkway for a good look.
America’s national parks offer visitors inspiring and affordable ways to unplug and reconnect with nature. Although not every state has a national park, the National Park Service also oversees national monuments, national historic sites, and national rivers, among other areas. Some parks are iconic, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, and others are underrated and lightly visited. This list highlights 50 must-see destinations — the best the country has to offer. National parks often charge an entrance fee that grants seven days of access and costs up to $35 a vehicle. An interagency annual pass provides access to all the national parks and other federal fee areas for $80. Seniors 62 or older can buy a lifetime passes for $80 and annual passes for $20. Members of the military are eligible for free annual passes. Fee-free days also are offered occasionally during the year, including Sept. 22 for National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
Slide 1 of 12: According to the Autism Society of America, more than 3.5 million Americans are on the autism spectrum. And according to research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 59 children has autism. Museums and attractions around the country are taking note of this growing population by catering to their needs. They help prepare visitors for upcoming trips and make things easier once they get there. Here are some of the activities and events available autism friendly museums and attractions in the U.S.
Slide 2 of 12: The Crown Family PlayLab at Chicago’s Field Museum offers Sensory Saturdays for families with autistic children. The museum opens an hour early for these guests and limits the activity to just 40 participants, keeping the crowd manageable. The PlayLab features hands-on exhibits. It is geared for young children, but includes opportunities for children of all ages to learn through hands-on exploration and discovery. The event is designed for individuals with disabilities and sensory processing needs, and siblings and family members are welcome. It’s free with advance registration.
Slide 3 of 12: Autistic children and their families get Smithsonian exhibits to themselves during Morning at the Museum events. The lights and sound are turned down and the crowds are much smaller. According to, the Smithsonian Institution has been among the first to develop programming to make museums more accessible and enjoyable for people with developmental disabilities.
Slide 4 of 12: Social stories are a coping mechanism for people with autism. They are short, direct stories that can explain an upcoming trip or event – kind of like a user guide to life. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has social stories in PDF form on its website. These guides tell autistic visitors what to expect: which entrance to use, what security and the ticket counter will be like, how the exhibits will be displayed. The museum also has a sensory-friendly map, telling visitors which areas are likely to be quieter and which have dimmer lights.
Slide 5 of 12: New York’s Museum of Modern Art also includes a sensory map for visitors planning a visit. This map also lists areas that could be less crowded, quieter and less bright. MoMA also features “tactile engagement spaces,” also known as hands-on exhibits. Once a month, MoMA hosts hands-on art workshops for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
Slide 6 of 12: New York’s Children’s Museum of the Arts hosts Inclusive Saturdays, free workshops for children with autism and their families and friends. Younger children (up to age 7) explore different art mediums, with a focus on sensory experiences. Older children (age 7-15) work on digital storytelling skills by making a collaborative film.
Slide 7 of 12: The DuPage Children’s Museum in suburban Chicago hosts Third Thursday each month, events designed for visitors with developmental disabilities or medical issues. Offerings include visits with therapy dogs and sensory art projects. They even have after-school programming to help with specific at-home goals for your child’s IEP (individualized educational plan; a specific set of goals set by school personnel for each child with a disability).
Slide 8 of 12: Things can get a little rowdy at the kid-friendly Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. So they offer a Quiet Space of the Day, for those who need a sensory break during their visit, as well as Quiet Kits with sensory cool-down items. The museum also hosts evening and early morning events just for families of children with disabilities. And they even have a professional therapeutic membership program for organizations that serve children with disabilities. Membership can be transferred among therapists.
Slide 9 of 12: The Chicago Children’s Museum opens early once a month for special-needs visitors. It’s free for the first 250 who register. This museum also has a social story on its website to prepare visitors. The story walks children through all the exhibits they will encounter and even includes a few helpful rules. (“I have to stay with an adult. I have to walk and use my quiet voice.”)
Slide 10 of 12: Pittsburgh’s Children’s Museum has some things to make visits easier for those on the autism spectrum. It loans out noise-blocking headphones as well as weighted vests and blankets to those in need. They also hosts Sensory Friendly Afternoons and their website features a helpful social story.
Slide 11 of 12: On the second Saturday of every month, the Miami Children’s Museum offers sensory friendly experiences. The sound and lights are turned down and the crowd is smaller. They even host health professional such as occupational therapists.
Slide 12 of 12: This is the world’s largest children’s museum – which can be intimidating for the moms and dads of autistic daughters and sons. But the museum has many ways to make things more manageable: The website features sensory stories and maps to prepare for your visit. You can borrow fidget toys and noise-reducing headphones. During some theater shows, autistic visitors who have a hard time waiting in line to get in can move to the front of the line. And therapists accompanying autistic visitors get into the museum free.

Autism friendly museums and attractions

Sensory Saturdays at Chicago’s Field Museum

Morning at the Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City

Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York City

DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville, Ill.

Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Chicago Children’s Museum

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Miami Children’s Museum

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

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