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Morning at the Museum is a pan-Institutional project designed to better serve families that include children on the autism spectrum who wish to visit the Smithsonian museums. The Accessibility Program and the museum education departments are receiving an increased number of requests for information from families who would like to visit the museums but have concerns about how their children with autism will react to a museum environment. This project seeks to prepare children with neurodiversity for the museum experience and diminish potential stress and worry for their parents.

Preparatory research was conducted to determine what kinds of programs other museums are offering. A Community Advisory Committee was established. Advisors are either self-advocates or professionals in medicine, education, or therapy who work with children on the autism spectrum and their families.

The project has narrowed its focus to four areas: web-based pre-visit materials including social stories, sensory maps, picture schedules, and visit tips; Morning at the Museum which offers early admission to a SI museum once a month; training curricula for staff, docents, and volunteers; and a University of MD/Smithsonian research project on the motivations, expectations, and behaviors of museum visits for families that include children on the autism spectrum.

Prototypes of both Morning at the Museum and training for staff have been conducted and another Morning at the Museum is planned for Feb. 25, 2012 which will include a research component for the University of MD/Smithsonian research project.

Future project plans include a mobile web site to deliver pre-visit materials through the SI Access App and a training webinar for Smithsonian Affiliate museums.