The National Museum of Computing has been offering Relaxed Openings for over 3 years. They were set up by my predecessor Claire Marston so I cannot claim the full credit. We run 6 relaxed openings a year. We either open at time when we are usually closed or quieter. We welcome families with autistic members. We pull in additional volunteers to be on hand if support is needed. We offer a ‘chill out space’, visual story, a sensory map and headphones. In addition to the relaxed opening we also offer extra activities. This has included augmented reality trails, family backpacks, drop-in workshops on computer games design and music, and so much more.
The best thing about it is seeing the families interacting together in a relaxed judgement free environment. So many parents thank me for giving them precious time together that isn’t fraught or stressful.
We once had a visitor who tried to climb over the safety barrier around an exhibit. One of our volunteers reacted quickly to protect the visitor who could have hurt themselves if they touched any of the hot parts of the exhibit. This is why some of our exhibits are surrounded by safety barriers. Unfortunately the visitor became distressed by the volunteers swift actions to prevent an accident so now we take steps to ensure that volunteers and guides engage with families as soon as they enter a room to make sure they are aware of the purpose of any safety barriers.
Our volunteers say –
“Relaxed Opening days are among my favourite activities at the museum. I can’t recall how [the Learning Manager] went about setting them up, but I do recall some trepidation on the first one I did. I need not have worried, it went smoothly. You never know what you are going to get. Some of the kids are very easy to interact with, maybe too chatty sometimes but that’s not a big problem. Others are less engaged but that’s where the challenge gets interesting. You need to be on your game to find a hook that the kids will find interesting and that often means going off script. Watch how the kids react to what you’re saying and steer accordingly – that’s a lot easier with a small audience but be prepared to be ignored and accept that it’s not down to rudeness.”
“As I have two nephews who have special needs, I was aware how important it is to put on such events. I found the events interesting and challenging and learnt to be extra patient. I also have great admiration for their parents.”
Our visitor says
“Our boys both loved it… Ordinarily, after a few hours one son is on edge, on the verge of overload. They say living with autism is like living life in a disco … I want to comment about your staff, … They were utterly brilliant. Patient, understanding, tremendously knowledgeable, they explained things in such an accessible way, there was always someone available.”
You can find out more about The National Museum of Computing here – https://www.tnmoc.org/
You can find out about more relaxed openings here https://www.tnmoc.org/relaxed-openings
The photos in this blog are from events pre-Covid.