Grand Rapids Public Museum and Hope Network provide support for autism

On April 27, the Bridge Walk for autism awareness through Hope Network is having its second annual event, and this year, they are partnering with the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) for an event catered especially for children with autism.

Last year, Hope Network, a Christian-centered service organization that empowers those with disabilities to achieve independence, held their first Bridge Walk for autism on the downtown Grand Rapids bridge to raise awareness and support for individuals and families that have been affected by autism in West Michigan.

With April designated as National Autism Awareness Month, a number of organizations and events have been working to take advantage of this month to both spread awareness and provide events that will cater to those affected by autism. The Bridge Walk will begin at 5 p.m., and following that, the GRPM will be holding a special sensory-friendly night that will allow children with autism to experience the museum more comfortably.

Taking place throughout the entire museum, many of the accommodations being made are centered around making the regular attributes of museum exhibits calm and low-sensory, such as lowering the volume of buzzing and noises in the exhibits and lowering the lighting. The GRPM will put on a planetarium show as well, but with less noise and light than usual to cater to the needs of the kids with autism.

On the top floor, GRPM will also be providing an activity area that will allow the kids to come and touch and experience things, such as art projects and visual and film experiences.

The sensory-friendly night was an idea that came about in discussions with Hope Network and is their first project like this. Kate Moore, GRPM’s vice president of marketing and public relations, says that though they [GRPM and Hope Network] don’t currently have any plans for specific events, they would absolutely want to do more events that will provide accessibility to a wider audience.

“We want more experiences just for those kids and families when it’s too much on regular days, and we want to cater specifically to them,” said Moore.

Though they haven’t yet done any other large events addressing accessibility, GRPM has worked on this on a smaller scale. GRPM has a partnership with GVSU’s education and occupational therapy programs and works with those students to plan or change exhibits in order to accommodate all learners and people of all abilities.

Other organizations have also taken advantage of National Autism Awareness Month and have centered events to cater to individuals and families who experience living with autism.  On April 2, World Autism Day, 3 Mile Project held an activity day with things like arts and crafts and open athletic courts for kids to enjoy, but they also had autism experts, volunteers and behavior analysts available to answer parents’ questions.

Emagine Theatre, with locations in Novi, Rochester Hills and Woodhaven, has begun to hold autism-friendly movie nights and will continue to hold them the first and third Saturdays of every month. Each of these experiences will provide lights that are brighter than normal movie theaters, less sound and a behavior specialist that will answer questions and make the experience more enjoyable. Children will also be allowed to move around more than a regular theater would allow. The goal is to help children develop skills and coping mechanisms that will eventually allow for a regular movie-going experience.