During any usual April, Children’s Museum Atlanta opens our doors early on Saturday mornings for the families of children on the autism spectrum in honor of Autism Awareness Month. We know the Museum can be overstimulating, so we power-down our nosier exhibit elements, adjust our lighting, limit the number of folks in the Museum and provide noise-reducing headphones to any guest who’d like to use them. An expansion of our monthly Sensory Friendly Saturdays, these mornings are a joyful time for us as we welcome children and families who might not otherwise feel at ease visiting the Museum.
But we all know April 2020 was no usual April. Like virtually every organization across the country, CMA had to get creative about how to continue our mission under these extraordinary circumstances. For us, this meant finding online opportunities to spark every child’s imagination, sense of discovery and learning through the power of play.
Every week this month it has been our pleasure to share a Sensory Storytime video hosted by Robert Fuson one of our Outreach Educators. With kids spending more time at home than ever, and parents looking for productive ways to occupy their time, storytime videos have become increasingly popular. But Robert noticed a problem.
“For children on the spectrum, these videos are visually distracting,” says Robert. Sensory Storytime was created to help address this issue. “One of the foundations of these videos is the need of children on the spectrum to “stim” or as is sometimes described “get stuck” with videos, watch them over and over and over,” he explains.
“I write background music for the videos to attempt to lean into that so that hopefully young children on the spectrum will be more inclined to listen. Additionally, children on the spectrum can prefer a monotone, soothing voice reading the story. And many kids on the spectrum prefer to see the story up in their face.” Our Sensory Storytime videos incorporate soothing voice-over and music, a steady close-up shot of the books and graphics designed to avoid visual distraction.
As an educator on the spectrum with a passion for making content for kids on the spectrum, Robert continues to improve the series. “We’re working on incorporating subtitles into the videos moving forward as an additional way to help service these children!”
For parents looking for additional resources, Robert recommends the AutPlay Therapy Facebook group for information on telemedicine and therapies for kids. He also encourages folks to find Facebook groups like Georgia Autism Moms to find support from people in similar situations.
In response to the global pandemic, The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina has developed seven key strategies for supporting individuals with autism through uncertain times. Access the full packet containing all of the content, strategies, and resources related to supporting individuals with ASD here.
Additionally, the Child Mind Institute’s Autism Center offers many resources to help parents and other caregivers support children with autism during this time.
Let us know how else CMA might support you and your child during this unprecedented time!