Utah UCEDD's Consumer Advisory Council Funds A Day at the Museum for Families of Children with ASD

August 30, 2012

Photo courtesy of Laura Anderson
Photo courtesy of Laura Anderson

449 people came together at Discovery Gateway in Salt Lake City for something many of them couldn't ordinarily enjoy: a day at the museum with their families.

They all had at least one family member with autism spectrum disorder.

Parents of children with autism can have a hard time in public spaces. An overstimulated child may have a meltdown. Sometimes the family is asked to leave because the child is disruptive. But at Autism Day at the Children's Museum, "everybody there got it," said Laura Anderson, a parent of a teenage boy with ASD. "Nobody cared if your kid was jumping up and down, clapping their hands."

Anderson is a member of the Consumer Advisory Council of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. The CAC funded the event. Anderson is also vice-president of the Utah Autism Council. (She did not cast a vote when the CPD's CAC was deciding which proposal to fund, because she wanted to avoid a conflict of interest. She was still delighted when Autism Day was chosen.)

The day at the museum was made possible through a partnership between Discovery Gateway and the Autism Council of Utah.

Anderson and the museum staff were both surprised to see how many people turned out. Tammy Spicer, assistant director of operations at the museum, had hoped 100 would come. Participants more than quadrupled that number, but while participation was high, Anderson said the museum still had some quiet places where stimulated children could calm down.

"It was something we wanted to do for a long time," said assistant director Spicer.  "We just heard so much feedback from the participants saying, "Thank you so much... we've wanted to come to the museum but on an average day it's just so hard."

The museum offered some training before the event, filling staff members in on what to expect. "I wasn't sure how the kids would respond but for the most part they just had a great time," Spicer said. "It far exceeded our expectations of what would happen."

"We had a great time at the Discovery Gateway today," one participant wrote. "My oldest son, Andy, who has autism, enjoyed it so much that he spontaneously gave me and his little sister a hug and kiss. We usually have to ask him for hugs and kisses, and he only gives them reluctantly. I am a happy mommy."

Anderson said the families felt welcomed. "Can I just tell you it was fabulous?"