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National Constitution Center Launches Sensory-Friendly Sundays

The Philadelphia venue announced Wednesday that on four Sundays in 2019 there will be special programs and accommodations for children with autism and other sensory-processing disorders.




The Grand Hall at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which announced the launch of Sensory-Friendly Sundays for 2019.

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia will offer Sensory-Friendly Sundays this year, with the first one scheduled for March 24, Center officials announced Wednesday.

The special programs — also scheduled for June 23, Aug. 25 and Dec. 8 — will include modified programming, free pre-visit guides, specially trained staff and safe spaces for children with sensory processing challenges, including autism.

“We are committed to creating an inclusive space for all learners to feel welcome,” said Kerry Sautner, chief learning officer at the Constitution Center, the nation's first museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution.

The Center had already provided a variety of special services, including assistive-listening systems, sign-language interpretation and large-print scripts. At the museum, kids can vote for their favorite president, be sworn in as presidents themselves, try on a Supreme Court justice’s robe and sit in a real jury box.

“Making the Constitution accessible to all Americans is at the heart of our mission,” said Sautner. “We look forward to providing each of our visitors with an enriching experience through our programming, exhibits, and environment.”

The Constitution Center joins a growing list of Philadelphia-area cultural institutions that have added programming and facilities designed for children with special needs and their families. They are responding, in part, to the fact that 1 out of 59 children in the US is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, according the Centers for Disease Control.

Roger Ideishi, a Temple University professor of occupational therapy who consults for organizations that want to make their programs more accessible, says he has watched them thrive.

“I first became involved with museum and community outreach programs that didn’t have experience with children who possess diverse abilities,” Ideishi says. “Now, we make sure that area artists and museum educators are trained and well able to address diverse learners.

“This has opened the floodgates to new opportunities for families who stayed away for fear of disrupting anyone else’s experience.”

In December, Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia opened an autism break room during basketball games, one of the first NCAA Division I schools to offer such a service.

“A high-energy event, like the quintessential experience of a college basketball game, can pose challenges for people with autism,” said Joseph McCleery, PhD, executive director of academic programs at the school’s Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. “By providing a supportive break room, with trained staff and sensory-friendly items, we can ensure that all fans and families can get in on the fun.”

The break room — which will be available during games on Jan. 20, Feb. 2 and March 2 — will have stress balls, bean bag chairs, bounce boards, weighted blankets and noise-cancelling headphones.

See our Special Needs Family Fun Guide to find other venues near you that go above and beyond to make their guests with special needs and their families feel welcome.

Also, check out our list of special theatrical and musical performances throughout 2019 that are sensory friendly or include Audio Description, Open Captioning or provide American Sign Language.

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