Museum opens after-hours for Autism Awareness

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The McWane Science Center kept its doors open late tonight for a special event as part of Autism Awareness month.

Dozens of families and children with autism were able to get the McWane experience without having to deal with big crowds or distractions.

Watching adults and children with autism walking through all of the exhibits, it might be hard to believe that one of the best parts of having the place all to themselves isn't what McWane has, but rather what it's missing---bright lights, crowds,or a lot of noise that can all be big distractions.

"Kids with autism are not going to come out during the daytime or at night when there's a large crowd," said Sandy Naramore, an executive at Mitchell's Place which is a center for preschool-aged children with autism and one of the events sponsors. "So thanks to McWane, we're able to have an isolated crowd with people who understand the behavior that might take place."

The only noise was an occasional shriek of delight as the children discovered exhibits that involve touching things or repetition, which are two big attractions to people with autism.

"It's actually not that much more effort," said McWane's Jan Mattingly. "Our exhibits and our programs kind of fit into the way the kids with Asberger's and Autism learn. So it's easy for us and we have great partners so great thing for us to do."

Mitchell's Place and the Glenwood center helped host Tuesday's event and other groups who can help families dealing with autism were onhand to try and let these families know the support doesn't end when the doors close.

"One of the first things we heard as people checked in was 'we don't have all the resources we need at school, so we really need to be able to talk to people from the community," Mattingly said. "So having it all in one place in a fun, safe atmosphere is really beneficial."

This is the 3rd time in less than a year McWane has hosted an event just for children and adults with autism.

The museum's leadership say they plan to make these kind of events a regular on their calendar.

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