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The Social Stories Spectrum Project is Underway

After putting out a call for applications and reviewing them in grave detail, we have an incredible group of high-functioning verbal young adults with autism to work with on the Social Stories Spectrum Project (SSSP). Each participant is a motivated, passionate, and talented young adult who is looking forward to exploring museums. They come from a variety of backgrounds. They are musicians, artists, collectors, gamers, volunteers, animal lovers, world travelers, and historians. Each participant has a wide range of special interests, which they are excited to share with us and their peers.

Each participant is eager to meet other young adults they can relate to, but they also have a genuine interest in the museums in Balboa Park and how they can help make the experience of visiting a museum more comfortable for others with autism. The brief conversations we’ve had with the participants have put the fuel in our engine, so to speak, and have made us eager to get the meetups started so we can get to know and collaborate with them.

Our advisors include an accessibility advocate from Museum of Science, Boston, the director of the accessibility program at the Smithsonian Institution, a local researcher and professor at San Diego State University in the field of severe intellectual disabilities, an autism advocate that works for a local non-profit that provides services that instill community-wide autism inclusion, and a local occupational therapist who specializes in working with individuals with autism on life skills in the “real world.” And, of course, we can’t forget our incredible Balboa Park partners including, the Fleet Science Center, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego History Center, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Man, and Japanese Friendship Garden.

During the two-day kick off meeting, we spent time getting to know each other better, getting everyone on the same page in regards to the scope of the project, exploring three of the museums (theNAT, Museum of Photographic Arts, and Museum of Man), and learning about autism. Through presentations and dialog, the group began to come to a basic understanding of the unique characteristics and needs of individuals with autism. Some of these needs include support with sensory processing challenges, life skills, and social interactions. We discussed how we, as facilitators, can best support the participants through structured meetups, facilitated experiences, and opportunities to work on skills, so we all can be successful.

We also discussed our hopes and fears. As I now look at these lists that hang on the walls in my office, I realize that our hopes are solid. We hope:

  • That the young adults feel empowered and amplified by the project
  • To demystify autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • To gain a broader understanding of visitors with ASD
  • To be proud of the end product, regardless of its outcome
  • That we can all create and/or strengthen friendships with and between our project team, the young adults, our advisors, and the project partners
  • That this project will have long-term positive effects in regards to inclusive practices within the San Diego ASD community, but also within the wider museum community
  • That this project becomes a model for other museums who want to co-create a project with members of the ASD community
  • To have FUN!

Then there are our fears. As I reread the list, I realize that we need to reframe our mindset from “fears” to “challenges.” These challenges can be mitigated and we can work to overcome them by:

  • Educating ourselves
  • Having clear communication with each other and the young adults participating in the project
  • Being nimble and ready to change course as needed
  • Providing warmth, grace, support, and structure to project participants
  • Being willing to accept that we will learn a lot from this project, which will inform our respective future practices, and hopefully that of the museum community

Our meetups begin in January, and we are very much looking forward to learning with and from these young adults. Stay tuned.

Jason Porter describes challenges with the Museum of Man entry gallery.

Kevin Linde talks about potential sensory challenges in one of the Museum of Photographic Art’s galleries.

Erica Kelly points out challenges within the multiple levels that open onto a center Atrium at theNAT.

Meeting participants gather in one of the quieter areas within the Fossil Mysteries exhibition at theNAT, which was identified as a possible area for someone with sensory processing challenges to decompress.

Meeting participants hear about the origins of the Social Stories Spectrum Project and the application process for the young adults with autism.

Posted by Beth Redmond-Jones on December 21, 2016

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