Seven years ago, Discovery Gateway staff made an unfortunate discovery: The Salt Lake-based museum wasn’t living up to its mission of inspiring kids of “all ages and abilities.” Parents of kids with autism avoided the museum; it was too noisy, bright and crowded. So, Tammy Spicer, director of education and museum operations, set out to make changes. Now, the museum dims its lights, cuts the noise and caters to kids with autism and sensory sensitivity at its monthly Sensory Inclusive Afternoon.

While developing the program, Spicer reached out to the Autism Council of Utah to learn what the museum should do to meet the needs of children with autism. She launched a test run of the program in June 2012. “It was in the morning, and we had over 300 participants,” she said. “I met some parents, talked to them about family life, about their children, and they were so grateful to have a place to go.”

Initially, Spicer called the program Autism Afternoon, but changed the title to make it more inclusive, based on a recommendation from KultureCity, a nonprofit group that advocates for children with autism and sensory sensitivity. The entire museum opens to families during Sensory Inclusive Afternoon, including a water play exhibit with a 38-foot water table, a sensory room with touch boxes, plasma balls and more, and the honey climber, a beehive/garden-themed structure with towers, a rope bridge and a climbing wall.

Sensory Inclusive
Playing in the museum’s Sensory Room, photo provided by Discovery Gateway

“You don’t have to prove you’re on the autism spectrum, you don’t have to register, we just want everybody to come and have a great time,” Spicer said. “If your child isn’t on the spectrum, we would invite you to come as well, but just know that the environment has been adjusted for children who are sensitive to some of the environmental interference around them.”

Sensory Inclusive Afternoon is held the last Tuesday of the month from 4 to 6 p.m. Discovery Gateway is located at 444 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City, at The Gateway.

More Sensory Inclusive Fun

  • Megaplex Theatres will host sensory friendly screenings during its 2019 Kids Summer Movies series.
  • AMC Theatres hosts sensory friendly screenings of family movies on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, and sensory friendly screenings for mature audiences on Tuesday evenings.
  • Check out one of Utah’s Hogle Zoo sensory backpacks, which include  “I have Autism, if lost please call…” stickers, noise-cancelling headphones, laminated copies of the Zoo Social Story, laminated lists of sensory exhibits, fidget toys, animal artifacts and animal models with labels.

Read more of our family content in our Kid-friendly blog roll.