Sights, Sounds and Sensory Bags
by Allyssa Haygood-Taylor
Most children love field trips, whether it is to the museum, the aquarium or the zoo. But these experiences are not exciting for every child. Students with autism or sensory sensitivities can be overwhelmed when entering these venues if they lack necessary accommodations. The Out-of-Classroom Experiences Creative Inquiry project, led by Dr. Ryan Visser in the Department of Education and Human Development, travels to outof-classroom learning venues to evaluate their accessibility accommodations.
This Creative Inquiry project is investigating how education-based venues service students with autism and sensory sensitivities. Rebecca Lamb, a junior special education major, views this project as necessary for addressing accessibility and adaptability issues. “What we want is to supply the knowledge of what students struggle with in these situations to the teachers as a resource,” Lamb said. This Creative Inquiry team travels to local and regional out-of-classroom venues such as the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC. Accommodations for students with sensory sensitivities are often limited to sensory bags, which are kits provided by the front desk with items such as headphones or sunglasses to dim lights. Venues that do not have educational programs designed for K-12 students usually do not provide any accommodations.
Leah Stone, a junior special education major, views the efforts of this Creative Inquiry project as a resource to expand learning opportunities for autistic students beyond their classroom’s four walls. “[We want] to inform people of how students with autism can be served best in the community,” Stone said. The team is starting conversations with professionals and educational venues on what procedures should be in place to best serve students needing accommodations. One venue the team feels is succeeding in an effort to be more inclusive is The Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville, SC. This museum hosts weekly sensory days where they turn down the volume of sounds, the brightness of lights and even offer therapy dogs. According to this team, offering sensory days is one way to accommodate all visitors. Further, the museum directors inquired about future collaborations with the student team in order to strengthen the museum’s accommodation program.
Looking forward, this team is excited to provide their recommendations to teachers and families who care for autistic students as well as to field trip venues as a resource for becoming more accessible. They are producing and publishing custom social stories or mini booklets that demonstrate to children what to expect in environments such as The Children’s Museum of the Upstate, for which the students created. Children can review these booklets before going to the venue, so they are better prepared for the experience. This Creative Inquiry project strives to offer outlined and defined expectations for out-of-classroom venues as well as to prepare teachers for school trips, in order to make these experiences more accessible for students with autism or sensory sensitivities. Every student should have the opportunity to enjoy field trips, and this Creative Inquiry project is helping to make that possible.
Barbara J. Speziale