Autism friendly experiences in Australia

Where can you go for autism friendly experiences in Australia? You’re stuck at home but really want to get out with the family. There’s a niggling worry about how your autistic kids will cope with the lights, noise, people. So how about try an autism friendly experience?

1. State Museums like SA Museum

Many of the state museums have relaxed, sensory-friendly experiences. These are often held in the hour before normal opening hours, and offer quieter visiting hours with smaller crowds, less noise, and reduced lighting.

Some museums also have sensory backpacks for loan. These backpacks contain noise cancelling headphones, a soft toy and communication cards made especially for autistic visitors. The SA Museum even provides a sensory map on their website, pointing out areas of low and high sensory input in their displays, such as bright lighting, and loud noises. The map also indicates times when the museum has less crowds so visits can be planned around that. Other museums may have sensory/interoception rooms available for calming – check their maps for details.

Several museums in Australia have also produced social stories for preparing children in advance for the visit.

Museums Victoria have social scripts available for their different museums, and the South Australian Museum have social stories available here.

2. Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries

If you are feeling more adventurous, you could go snorkelling with the autism friendly Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries in South Australia. This non-profit is dedicated to marine conservation through safe and supervised snorkel tours. They promote inclusion in their programs for all abilities, including those with disabilities such as autism, cancer, depression, anxiety, intellectual disability and physical disabilities. They even have an immersive wheelchair and modified wetsuits to enable snorkelling experiences for all. EMS encourage participants to let them know of any special requirements so they can make sure they have the right things to support you on the day.

3. Sporting Facilities

Did you know that the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has a sensory room? This room has been designed with Autism Spectrum Australia to provide a quiet space with fidget toys, and accessible bathrooms. Staff in the room have done autism awareness training, and the MCG website also includes downloadable social stories for before your visit.

The Adelaide Entertainment Centre, home of the 36s Basketball team also has a sensory room. So does Optus Oval, home of the Fremantle Dockers, and Marvel Stadium in Victoria.

Some of the rooms require bookings, while others are available at any time. There may be beanbags or noise cancelling headphones made available, along with dim lighting and low noise. Best of all, they are equipped with TVs so you can watch the game without the crowd.

4. Movies

Some cinemas offer sensory screenings that are autism friendly. Event cinemas and Hoyts cinemas offer once a month sensory sessions of movies on Sundays. These sessions feature dim lighting and lower volume music. They are also more casual, and kids are free to move around, dance, or make noise during the movie. Check the schedules for what movies are offered in this format.

5. Sensory Shopping

More and more shopping centres are becoming aware of the sensory needs of autistic people. Some grocery stores like Coles and Foodland (in SA) offer quiet hours. In these time slots they dim the lights, lower the volume of songs over their radio (or turn it off completely along with the PA), and sometimes even turn off the sound on cash registers to reduce the ‘ding’ noises in store. These quiet shopping times are often on weekday evenings, but you’ll need to check your local store to find out specific details.

6. Find more

There are plenty of places offering new autism friendly low sensory experiences, and new experiences open up every day.

Sometimes experiences are once-off, such as sessions negotiated by autism groups and open only to autism organisation members.

Here are so other places to look for autism friendly experiences:

The Autism Friendly Charter contains a directory of businesses in South Australia that are autism friendly. This includes Bounce, Latitude, and the National Motor Museum. Businesses are assigned different ‘autism badges’ to indicate what they provide such as autism aware staff, calming spaces, dedicated low sensory sessions, low light, no hairdryers, quiet times, and wide walkways.

A good place to look are autism associations in your state. The Perth Aquarium has offered sensory sessions with the Autism Association of Western Australia, and Autism SA has booked out Bounce for special autism events.

Many museums are autism friendly, but may offer irregular sessions – either only once a week, or only specil events that they advertise on their sites. The SA Maritime museum also offers low sensory sessions, as does the Hellenic museum in Melbourne, Queensland museum and the Australian Museum with their Night-Owls sessions.

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