By Johnson County Museum Curator of Education Leah Palmer
The Johnson County Museum believes passionately that museums are for everyone. But for many people in our community, the barriers that keep them from visiting are everywhere. For some individuals, the sights, sounds, and unknown experiences of a museum can be overwhelming. To address this, the museum set out to create an experience that would allow children with sensory processing differences and Autism Spectrum Disorders, and their families, to come out and experience all the museum has to offer.
In June the Johnson County Museum launched Sensory Friendly Mondays, a new program designed to make the museum more comfortable with those with sensory differences. During Sensory Friendly Mondays, the museum’s exhibits, including KidScape – a 3,500 square foot interactive history exhibit designed for children ages two to nine – are presented in a comfortable, low-sensory way. This is an opportunity for families who might be hesitant to visit during public hours to experience the museum in ways that are more comfortable and accessible to their families. The next Sensory Friendly Monday program will take place on Sept. 13.
The program is a offered in partnership with Britain Development, a program of AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. This partnership has allowed the museum staff to hone in on changes that are essential for creating a sensory-friendly experience. “AdventHealth Foundation Shawnee Mission is proud to support Britain Development and the Johnson County Museum in the development of Sensory Friendly Mondays,” said Laurie McCormack, executive director for the Foundation. “Community partnerships such as this help bring the expertise of Britain Development staff beyond the walls of the B.E. Smith Family Center to the community. We are thrilled at the opportunity to share this knowledge and serve more members of our community.”
During the planning stages, Britain Development staff conducted a full audit of the museum and commons spaces. Among the many accommodations that Britain Development staff identified were: lower lights, disabling museum interactives with a lot of auditory stimulus, and offering a sensory-friendly room for visitors who might need a break. But their involvement did not end with the audit. Britain Development is on-site during the program to offer support to families and even developed sensory bags that visitors can check out free of charge during their time at the museum. The bags contain everything from noise-cancelling headphones to fidget devices.
In a recent Fox 4 television interview, one participant’s mom said “George does have some sensory needs. He gets really easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, especially in loud, busy environments. I was excited for the opportunity to bring him here and play without quite as much commotion that would normally be. I brought my daughter to the museum when she was younger and am thrilled to have a place where both children can play together outside of the home. Just to be able to bring George here and have that same experience has been great.”
Many of the items developed for this program have impact beyond the monthly program. Sensory bags are available to the public during regular business hours. And pre-visit documents, including a social narrative, visual checklist, and sensory map, help prepare families for what they will experience at the museum. These additions help to expand our goal of making the Johnson County Museum more welcoming for all people in our community.
Except for months when a holiday falls on the first Monday, this program takes place on the first Monday of every month from 9 am to Noon. Learn more, download our pre-visit documents, and register at https://www.jcprd.com/1686/Sensory-Friendly-Mondays