A Relaxed Opening at the RCM
Friday 10th August saw the very first specially ‘adapted’ Relaxed Opening of the Royal Cornwall Museum to those who live with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and associated conditions.
An initial ‘fact finding’ meeting with Spectrum, a local charity which provides specialist residential care for adults and children, education and domiciliary care services, lead to a questionnaire being distributed online to their user group. This information proved vital in planning for our event. Asking questions about what does and doesn’t work best, in terms of museum visits, for those living with ASDs, allowed the team to make small but significant changes to the RCM, such as ensuring the hand-driers were switched off, to prevent upsetting sudden noises, with paper towels supplied as an alternative. We took the decision to open a little earlier, but not so early as to make it a chore for anyone visiting us. Again, we worked on the feedback given to us, particularly listening to parents who might find it difficult to get children up and out early, even with the desire to perhaps avoid more hectic times.
Ahead of the day, resources were prepared: backpacks filled with sensory ‘fiddle’ toys, ear-defenders were offered, an alternative ‘trail’ was made, based on the widely enjoyed and beautifully illustrated children’s trail, reduced some of the information and allowed more choice, with the option of ticking off or re-writing goals on a wipe-clean surface. Importantly, it was possible to download ‘social stories’ (one Easy Read, another with a little more information included) – these help visitors prepare themselves ahead of any trip to best reduce the unexpected element. This was a key piece of feedback the questionnaire yielded.
Similarly, a ‘sensory map’ which highlighted areas of high (and low) stimulation was created, again available online, and offered on the day. This reflected our decision not to turn off any of our ‘media’: the logic being that many people, with or without ASD enjoy these resources, and if those who don’t are notified of these areas, they could choose to avoid them. The Lower Education Room was transformed into a ‘chill out’ room, with beanbags, lava lamps and more sensory toys so that anyone needing to take a break could relax and regroup ahead of returning to the galleries.
Spectrum were invaluable in preparing for the day: explaining their own approach, proofreading the ‘social stories’, providing resources to help de-mystify the reality of many people’s lives and attending on the day to offer additional support. Importantly, ahead of the Relaxed Opening, information was made available to all staff and volunteers working that day to best prepare them for our guests. Many respondents to the questionnaire had stressed that it was often the ‘fear of judgement’ that deterred them, either from other visitors or even museum staff, who might feel those with ASD were behaving inappropriately: at RCM we can be confident that all staff and volunteers welcome visitors warmly, regardless of any conditions they might live with, and that the museum can be an exciting and informative place for all.
‘Relaxed Openings’ are being built into the regular programming at RCM: keep an eye on the ‘what’s on’ calendar for the next date.