The 21-Tech initiative has allowed me as a Discovery Guide to push myself further on how much information I can process and share with each visitor I encounter.- Odis Garrett, Children’s Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech is a bridge between our museum guides and the visitors in that it creates connections between educational concepts and the real world.- Shawn Waxali, Children’s Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech has helped Discovery Guides engage visitors by extending their experience through the apps and applying it to the exhibits.- Ian Tibby, Children's Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech is a way of ‘hiding the vegetables in the fruit’ where the kids do not realize they are learning, but instead having fun and being fed knowledge that intrigues their minds.- Lauren Bell, Children's Museum of Houston Discovery Guide
21-Tech provides a new outlet for our Discovery Guides to interact with the visitors in a way that further enhances their experience and makes the visit overall extra enjoyable.- Sylvia Garcia, Children's Museum of Houston Discovery Guide

21-Tech and Sensory Friendly Day

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My name is Savannah Dorset and I am a Discovery Guide at the Children’s Museum of Houston. The Museum hosts a quarterly Sensory Friendly Day where the entire museum is closed to the public except for children on the autism spectrum and their families. A cause very near and dear to my heart as I have two cousins who are both autistic.

My grand pet project to combine 21-Tech and autism outreach all started with a single off handed comment by a visitor last fall. During one of the Sensory Friendly Days, I noticed a little boy wearing a set of noise cancelling headphones and I began chatting with his mom about my own cousins wearing something similar when it becomes too loud or overwhelming for them. The conversation turned to adaptive/coping devices in general and I told her about how my cousin Cary just got an iPad and how much it has helped calm him down and, finally, for the first time, actually communicate with us — a true miracle in my eyes as he is fourteen years old and completely non-verbal. The mom commented that she wished there were apps specifically designed for kids with autism. I thought to myself, “There has to be something.” I mentioned it to my mother and the next day, we were sending links back and forth to each other about what we found. Suddenly, I had a new obsession. How could we bring all of this to the ASD children who visited the museum?

I set a goal that by the next Sensory Friendly Day in February, not only would we have iPads on the floor, but that I would have some sort of information resource for parents about various apps. And boy, was there plenty to choose from! Using the absolutely invaluable search tool Autism Apps, a fantastic searchable database of all apps specifically designed for those on the autism spectrum, we created a flyer which highlighted seven apps. All of them were free and addressed specific behaviors or traits that are common in children on the autism spectrum. For example, one app called Model Me Going Places walks a child through a variety of social situations (going to the grocery store, the mall, the playground, etc.) and prompts via words and pictures appropriate social behavior.  The back of the flyer had information about various grants and programs to help parents purchase an iPad. Armed with that and a handful of Discovery Guides who were very comfortable with the technology, we were ready to go.

The collaboration was a success! The whole day was full of amazing moments such as a child pausing mid-tantrum to sit on the floor with me and ‘draw’ using the Glow Doodle app, much to the obvious relief of his mother. Several special education teachers grabbed flyers with slightly awed “Why didn’t I know about this stuff?” expressions.  I think for many of the Discovery Guides, they really understood how the iPad can truly be something to enhance an interaction with a child. One Discovery Guide confessed to me that she was at first very nervous about Sensory Friendly Day, but that the iPad was an amazing help. It gave her that perfect opening to start a conversation.

Positive feedback for Sensory Friendly day is still coming in to the museum from parents who are already looking forward to the next one. With the success of this first collaboration, we have received permission to expand with more apps. For me mostly, it was just a profound experience. I took a little kernel of an idea and helped it grow into something I hope might help a lot of children. Pretty great for a day’s work.

Or a few months’ work.

  1. June 8, 2013

    Sean Rooney

    Thanks for sharing this! I’m passing this on to our staff. We are looking into offering something similar to a Sensory Friendly Day.

  2. September 11, 2013

    Nancy Guldberg

    Savannah, thanks so much for your hard work. Is it possible for you to send along your resource list for apps?

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Project Brief

21-Tech partners study and share the effective use of Personal Mobile Technologies (PMTs) by gallery facilitators in their work with visitors. The initial three years (2011-2013) of 21-Tech are funded in large part by a 21st Century Museum Professionals award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project is led by the Children’s Museum of Houston in partnership with Lawrence Hall of Science, New York Hall of Science, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and Sciencenter. For more information, please visit the About page.

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