Friday, June 12, 2009

An Accessible Evening the Entire Family can Enjoy

DCM is dedicated to being accessible to all children and adults and makes a special effort to accommodate our visitors with special needs. Our exhibits offer ways to work on language development, social skills and purposeful play.

The Third Thursday evenings from 5- 7 pm are a special time for all families, especially families of children with autism spectrum disorder,visual impairments and/or mobility impairments. Cindy Miller, our Community Access Coordinator, acknowledges that for some families, Third Thursday has been a bridge. "Once a child's or family's comfort level within the Museum increased, they started visiting the Museum at other times," she stated.

Here are some experiences you will find on Third Thursday evenings:

Visit our resource table for information on issues and services related to autism, visual impairments and/or mobility impairments. We are pleased to bring resources and information to our visitors such as upcoming community events, service providers, and support organizations in the community. Visitors can find recommendations for using our exhibits for therapeutic benefits. We also offer to parents wanting to connect with other parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, visual impairments and/or mobility impairments a discreet, voluntary ID system.

While parents explore the community and informational resources, children can explore the contents of our sensory box, filled with items for visual, auditory and tactile stimulation. This sensory box is available during other visits, if requested, for extra support with visual, auditory or tactile play.

Regular Third Thursday volunteers are Casey, the therapy dog, and his owner Janet. A new development for Third Thursday is the addition of a volunteer with experience in supporting families of children with special needs to staff the Resource Table. "We are very excited about our new volunteer joining us because with her education and experience, she is yet another great resource available to our Third Thursday visitors," commented Cindy Miller.

Use our visual communication systems. Visitors can learn about our Photo Book, which is a visual communication system of Museum exhibits and environment. The Photo Book assists parent and child with structuring their visit and can help ease transitions from one activity to another. They can also borrow specific picture schedules (compliments of Illinois Autism/PDD Training and Technical Assistance Project), which are visual aides to support a child's communication skills during play in the exhibits. Children can also complete an art project in our art studio with an accompanying visual system.

Browse our Explorer Store. The staff would be happy to assist you with suggested toys for children with specific needs. For instance, toys that stimulate visual interest, sensory experiences, patterns, visual tracking or toys with cause and effect features may benefit children on the autism spectrum. A family with a child with a visual impairment may want to look for toys that use touch, sound and texture. Toys that encourage body movement and use available motor skills can be useful for children with mobility impairment.

Get to know well-trained staff. Staff is trained to recognize when a family may benefit from using some of our adaptive equipment, sensory items, visual communication systems or Photo Book. Staff may offer materials by asking the adult family member, "Do you think your child might be helped by using sensory items," or "Does your child use a visual system at school?" "We see the benefits from offering these opportunities," stated Sue Kessler, one of our Play Coordinators. A recent synopsis by Sue for our staff summarized a rewarding experience for both the staff member and the visitor:

One of our Play Facilitators, Rachel, pulled out the sensory box for a young lady in a wheel chair in the Good Show Gallery. Rachel started to show her the items to see if one could help both the young lady and her two teachers. When Rachel clapped the sand blocks together, the girl in the wheelchair started to smile. The teachers were pleased and mentioned that a smile was rarely observed for this child. Later, Rachel, the two teachers and the girl in the wheelchair played together in our Make it Move neighborhood with similar results. The teachers mentioned that they were going to make sand blocks for the girl when they returned to school.

Mark your calendars. Even though our summer hours have changed, our commitment to Third Thursdays stays the same. We will have weekday evening hours during summer only on June 18, July 16 and August 20. For further information about Third Thursday, please contact Cindy Miller, Community Access Coordinator (

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