By Kathy Brown
I recently got to witness a child experiencing pure bliss. It was the result of a remarkable Friday evening event at the newly opened Explore & More Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Children’s Museum at Canalside.
The Au-some Event was open only to children with autism and their families. I happened to be there because the museum invites therapy dogs from the SPCA’s Paws for Love Program to provide comfort and encourage social interactions.
After our shift, Hurley and I went exploring at the museum. I loved all the interactive exhibits and saw lots of happy kids and even happier parents. The kids were truly enjoying all the things to do and they had lots of time to play, lots of room and no one telling them, “Don’t touch!”
However, what really caught my eye was a child watching the waterfall in the Erie Canal portion of the museum. He was totally immersed, body and soul, in the beauty and movement of that water. As a former special education teacher, this aspect of autism – totally being in the moment – is what I loved about working with the kids who had this diagnosis.
Their ability to study a part of their environment and truly “know it” makes them experience the world in such a unique way.
I talked to the parents of that boy and they remarked that they had not gotten very far in the museum because their child had wanted to stay put and watch the water falling in the exhibit.
I think that child was getting more out of the museum than most of the kids who go there and rush from exhibit to exhibit looking for the next entertainment. His opportunity to have the unhurried experience of standing and watching that waterfall with parents who were patient was a gift to this child. These parents allowed this child to just experience the museum in his own way.
Someone once told me that parents who first hear their child has autism are told the diagnosis is like going on a flight to Europe. Instead of landing in Rome, where you were headed, your flight is diverted to Paris. You’re still in Europe, but not exactly where you thought you’d go. However, both cities have lots to offer and your trip will be terrific.
These parents were experiencing the joy of watching their child engulfed in true bliss. It was wonderful and something all parents hope for their child.
It’s such a great idea to make this museum accessible to those with sensory needs. Explore & More sets aside one Friday evening each month and offers the event free to families of children on the autism spectrum. They only require registering by emailing email@example.com.
Kathy Brown is a retired special education teacher from the Grand Island School District.