Autism awareness in a time of COVID

Claire Madge from Autism in Museums urges museums not to forget their autistic visitors during this latest lockdown and offers four easy ways to stay connected with and support this vulnerable group.

Accessibility and inclusion has never been more important. Faced with reduced finances, staff redundances and extended periods of furlough, inclusion work can all too easily get forgotten. Lockdown is having a detrimental effect on the nation’s mental health, but the autism community is even more at risk. Whilst autism is not a mental health condition, autistic people are more likely to suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. A survey by the National Autistic Society reported that 85% of autistic people said their anxiety levels had got worse during lockdown.

But there are simple things that you can do right now. Autism in Museums has put together top tips to help, bearing in mind the restraints we currently face.

1 – Awareness from Home
Awareness and understanding of autism and what autistic people can experience is often cited as the most important step a museum can take. In the 2020 Museum and Heritage Access Survey 44% of respondents asked for better disability awareness and knowledge from staff. Whilst staff are at home there are lots of online resources to help. Kids in Museums has produced a resource with Autism in Museums which has ideas to access from home, including a free Open University course on ‘Understanding Autism’.

2 – Inclusive Websites
Good online information has always been crucial and now it is even more important with new rules about visiting and one way routes. Autistic people often find change very challenging, knowing what will happen when you visit is crucial. Consider a visual story which provides simple visual information about what will happen on a visit. The Cartoon Museum worked with a local teacher to produce their resource. The London Museum of Water and Steam also produced a video with children to help explain their new rules which has had over 5,000 views on Twitter. And this content will be helpful for all visitors to come prepared when they’re able to come back.

3 – Online Offer 
Autism is a spectrum meaning each autistic person is different. Offering a range of online activities for different skill levels is good for autistic audiences. Think about simple instructions and videos to explain the activities. National Galleries Scotland have a range of activities to suit different needs. Cambridge Museums have resources aimed at SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) families.

4 – Think Local 
As with all audiences, the best way to be inclusive is to work with autistic individuals, families and groups. Start a conversation about what they need and how you can help. Every local authority has to provide a ‘Local Offer’ which includes a list of special schools, mainstream schools with autism provision and autistic social groups, this is the link to the one in Essex. The London Museum of Water and Steam have been working with ‘All Aboard Club’ to provide a socially distanced space for activities which you can read about in this blog.

Claire Madge runs Autism in Museums, an initiative to raise awareness of accessibility for all in museums and cultural venues. They support promote and advocate for inclusion in everything you do. Click here to visit the Autism in Museums website>>

Resources and references

Left Stranded: The impact of Coronavirus on Autistic People and their families in the UK, 2020, National Autistic Society. [accessed 23 Jan 2021] 

Museum and Heritage Access Survey 2020, VocalEyes, Stagetext and Autism in Museums. [accessed 23 Jan 2021]

Autism in Museums: welcoming families and young people, Kids in Museums, 2020. [accessed 23rd Jan 2021] 

Understanding Autism, Open University [accessed 21 Jan 2021]

Social Story, Cartoon Museum, 2020. [accessed 21 Jan 2021]

Re-opening video, London Museum of Water and Steam, 2020. [accessed 21 Jan 2021]

Art Around You, Yinka Shonibare, National Galleries Scotland. [accessed 21 Jan 2021]

Shadow Play. Bridget Riley, Look, Copy and Make SEND Resource, Cambridge Museums. [accessed 21 Jan 2021]

Local Offer Essex.  

All Aboard Club

Putting the community first at the London Museum of Water and Steam, Nov 2020, Autism in Museums [accessed 21 Jan 2021] 

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