Access to Science

When you are a parent of a child with special needs, even just everyday tasks can feel daunting and overwhelming. Whether it’s food shopping, a trip to the playground or going to the mall, these experiences can be overstimulating and uncomfortable for an individual with unique needs especially for those with sensory needs.

That means visiting places like a zoo, amusement park or museum can be even more overwhelming. That’s why the Academy of Natural Sciences has created an event that offers access to scientific exploration for individuals of ALL ABILITIES!

Access to Science takes place several weekends throughout the year at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. For this event, the Academy opens its doors early (9-11 a.m.) to individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. Pre-registration is required in order to keep the crowds small. Same-day registration is available on-site.

A visitor holds a fake Bald Eagle egg in Outside In!

Although any visit to the Academy of Natural Sciences is a great adventure, Access to Science offers a sensory friendly experience for children that struggle with loud noises, bright lights, large crowds and other sensory stimulation. Access to Science enables families to explore the museum including special exhibits while feeling safe and comfortable in a judgment-free environment.

Before You Go: Access to Social Stories

What I absolutely LOVE about the Academy and the Access to Science event is that they offer pre-visit materials. Children with autism and other sensory needs often struggle with new experiences, changes in routine and transitions they are not ready for. That is why providing visitors with maps and social stories ahead of time is key in creating a fun and successful experience for the entire family.

Social stories can be read over and over as well as brought to the museum as a reference during the visit. Social stories are a wonderful way to prepare guests for what to expect including temperature, sound level, what animals they may see or touch and activities that are available.

Two young visitors play in the sand box trench in Outside In!

The social stories are available on the Academy website and can be found for Dinosaur Hall, Butterflies! exhibit, Outside In, the café and lunchroom. Each story includes pictures of the spaces the children will explore during their visit.

For instance, the beginning of the Dinosaur Hall social story explains to visitors the admission process including visiting the front desk, getting a wristband and taking the stairs or elevators. The stories also help children learn and practice appropriate social skills such as asking to go to the bathroom when needed, expressing their need for a quiet space when the noise bothers them and how to wait their turn.

What To Expect: Access to Fun and Learning

Access to Science offers visitors a chance to explore the museum in a sensory-friendly environment. Since registration is required, crowds are small making the rooms and hallways less crowded.

Quiet areas with benches are also available throughout the museum if a visitor feels overwhelmed. These quiet spaces are discussed in the social stories mentioned above. Trained staff will be available throughout the morning to provide assistance if needed.

Guests are able to explore the entire museum during Access to Science. This includes special exhibits such as Mythic Creatures. When Access to Science falls on a special weekend event, guests will also have access to themed activities like Animal Superhero Weekend. Lastly, guests will have the chance to meet Blossom the therapy chicken.

Access to Science is a wonderful event that families will want to attend over and over again! To learn more and to download the social stories, please visit the Academy of Natural Sciences website.

By Jessica Lopa, founder and dean of Mommy University. The post was originally published on

The next Access to Science event will be on Saturday, June 1. Click here for more details.

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