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Serving Children and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder In the "Heart of Brooklyn"

on Mon, 07/15/2013 - 10:01pm

Serving children and adults with autism spectrum disorder and their families was the focus of a panel hosted in May of this year by Heart of Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Heart of Brooklyn is a partnership of six cultural institutions located in central Brooklyn: Brooklyn Botanic Garden,Brooklyn Children's Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Public LibraryProspect Park, Prospect Park Zoo. HOB has recently begun a two-year action-research project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Rockefeller Foundation aimed at diagnosing and responding creatively to the needs of visitors with development and learning disabilities, as well as people with autism.

Over the past couple of years, several representatives from HOB institutions have attended Museum Access Consortium training workshops on how cultural institutions can provide more welcoming experiences at cultural institutions for visitors on the autism spectrum. Due to their experiences at these workshops, Cindy VandenBosch, co-chair and project manager of the Museum Access Consortium, was invited to speak on a panel along with Geoffrey DeBery, of Eden II Programs, a Staten Island non-profit that provides specialized community-based programs and other opportunities for people with autism; Aaron Feinstein of ActionPlay, an organization dedicated to providing children, teens, and young adults with autism and developmental disabilities equal access to arts and cultural programming; Alicia Kershaw of GallopNYC, which provides therapeutic horseback riding to children and adults with disabilities in New York City; and Elaine Stillerman, parent and founder of Big Apple Oranges, a resource for New York City children with special needs and their families.

The panel, which was moderated by Marcos Stafne, Ph.D., of the Brooklyn Children's Museum, agreed that there is a real demand for accessible cultural programming in Brooklyn and that families perceive that options are limited. Panel members also discussed the fact that inclusion at cultural instiuttions is needed, as are programs catering to specific needs; and that institutions should incorporate ways to minimize visitor stress and prepare all staff as necessary to do so.

Panel members highlighted the message that it is a myth that young people with autism don't desire to be social - they do; and that there is no "one size fits all" approach to working with children on the spectrum. The panel also urged the audience to keep in mind that cultural programs should be about the experience at the institution, not necessarily following a set plan. Flexibility is key.

You are welcome to view the clip reel of this expert panel below, which includes ten minutes of highlights from the two-hour panel discussion, or click here to read the transcript from the clip reel.  You may also view this version by clicking here to view the clip reel on YouTube