I am nervous, we are off to the Science Museum. Early on a Saturday, got to get all the kids up and on the train by 7.50am. Last night thunder and lightning, two kids slept through the lot, one was up till the early hours. Very tempted to stay in bed but today is special, today the Science Museum are letting me take over their Twitter feed so I can tweet our family visit to the Early Birds opening for families who have children with autism.
I am nervous. I remember our first visit, way back in 2013. That day I was nervous about getting out the door, getting on the train, getting to the Science Museum, how my daughter would cope in a new environment, would we have a good time? Would it work out? What if it all goes wrong? Those worries have all gone now. I tell my daughter that I am tweeting today, she tells me not to worry about it. “All you have to do is tweet amazing tweets Mum” – no pressure then. The worries I do have are all from me, they are more about tweeting from the Science Museum account that has half a million followers and not making spelling mistakes or tweeting something inappropriate, or being late. I really can’t be late.
Now I think about it, that is amazing, I wasn’t worried about how my daughter would get on. I knew it would be okay. I knew staff are all so friendly and understanding. I knew which galleries would be open. I knew which events we could get up to. I sat on the train showing my daughter the email from the Science Museum, and we planned out what we would visit. No panic attacks on the train, no panic attacks when we get to the museum. The museum is quiet, we are early, early birds and the doors aren’t even open. There is no queue, just a handful of parents milling about. One child has ear defenders, one older child behind us is struggling. Different families, just having a day out. Facing different challenges, some more than others, but ultimately just wanting to have a day out, to have a little fun.
A friendly hello from staff as we go in, first from the security staff and the girl on the desk. She tells us what is on, I could tell her, we have been to quite a few Early Birds now, we always have a good time. We meet Will, the press officer who will be handing over his phone and letting me takeover the museum twitter account. I have met Will before, I know he is a nice guy. I introduce the kids and my long suffering husband, we have a photo. Even the youngest behaves, this is a good sign. It is funny, I am much like my daughter. I need to know where we are going, what we are doing, who I am meeting. Familiarity with the museum, with a staff member, these things all make it easier for me. They make it easier for her too.
I often meet people and they say “Your daughter doesn’t act autistic.”, “Your daughter doesn’t look autistic.”, “If you hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have known”. Yep, we get those days. I try and explain to people, they say “Oh, my daughter does that, aren’t we all a little bit autistic?” I think they are trying to make me feel better. It doesn’t make me feel better.
Then there are days when people have said “Is she always like this?”, “We can’t have that sort of behaviour in here”. Those are the not so good days. Autism is fine, autism is great, yes, you could say we are all a little bit autistic. But it is when the autism stops you doing stuff. When the problems begin. When you need help and you need some guidance. When your daughter can’t leave the house, when she won’t leave your side, when noises hurt her ears, when a trip to a busy, crowded, noisy Science Museum just isn’t on my radar. It isn’t even a thing I would consider trying. That is when we need a bit more help.
That is what the Science Museum does, they just help us out. They open up early, they keep the numbers low, they keep certain galleries open just for us, even when the doors are open to the public. They send us information that lets us know exactly what will be open and what activities we can get up to. They have a sensory room, they have space to wander, you don’t have to do a single thing. You can just stop and look at a piece of moon rock if you want, or just play with the bubbles or just run up and down, that is fine too.
I have been thinking about what I should tweet, there is so much I want to say. 140 characters, that is not much, that is not enough to tell you that we have only been able to visit because of these events, that coming out and having a good day as a family is so special, that the kids are learning, they are touching and listening and feeling and running and laughing.
But you know what? We are just like any other family, 40 mins in the youngest tells me he wants to go home. The middle one wants to make a lantern, the eldest one doesn’t. One runs off in one direction, the others run off in another. I try and keep up. I placate, I keep everyone happy. Will says to the youngest “Would you like to see an astronaut’s space suit?” he answers “NO”. Well, you can’t please all the people all the time. He wants to play in the Launchpad gallery, he wants to try and grab the image of a watch. I love seeing his little fingers reach out time and time again, his confusion when he can’t grasp an image that has no substance.
I look at my tweets from the day, they are nothing special, they don’t explain what autism is, they don’t have a magic recipe to make it all better. But what are they? They are just the things you do as a family at the museum. They are the kids having a giggle, the youngest on one side, the girls on the other, a basketball becomes the Earth. They meet Amy Johnson, my eldest wears her flying jacket and hat. This is pretty amazing stuff for her, she is calm, she is having a good time. She gets out her iPod and jots down the important stuff. Amy Johnson flew to Australia, Amy Johnson likes Toblerone. They are pictures of the kids, pulling levers, climbing across bridges and standing in front of the thermal imaging camera. The last picture is my daughter’s arm around her Dad, she tells us she is tired, she has done so well but after a while it all gets a bit too much.
We have a coffee pitstop (us, not the kids). The museum is opening up, the queues patiently waiting outside, the buzz and noise slowly increase. The empty corridors slowly fill with inquisitive visitors, they criss cross in front of us, the calm and quiet slowly disappears. We have one more place to visit. I told my daughter about the Cravings exhibition and she has been desperate to visit. It is not open as part of the Early Birds morning, she knows this. I tell her we can visit when the museum opens up. It will be busy and noisy and full of people but we can give it a go.
We get there, we visit Cravings, she reads, she touches, she sniffs. She waits for a girl to finish on a computer then she takes a turn. I take a picture of my girl, we are here in the Science Museum, just looking at stuff, normal opening, people around. I am so proud of her. This is the best damn visit to the Science Museum ever. This is the best Early Birds, because we are no longer at the Early Birds. This is the magic for us, small steps, good memories, familiarity, a little bit of help, a little bit of understanding. These new experiences are becoming familiar experiences and we can push the boundaries out a little. I can’t tweet the feeling I had watching my girl. I can’t tweet a bursting pride.
Finally we leave, no tears, amazing. I see my husband chatting to another Dad with his son. They have come to the museum for Early Birds too, it is their first ever visit and they could only do it because of these special openings. It takes me back to our visit, that first time. Now I look at us, we are still coming, still getting so much from this. So please don’t ever stop. I will always remember today, yes I got to take over the Science Museum Twitter account which is such an amazing privilege and trust in me which makes me proud of everything I have done over the last few years. But much more than that I will remember a trip to Cravings, just a normal every day visit that just happens to be the best thing in the whole world.
You can see a Storify of our visit here https://storify.com/sciencemuseum/early-birds-twitter-takeover
You can find out more about Early Birds Autism Sessions from the Science Museum website