Families First: HMNS Expands Accessibility to Accommodate Autism Spectrum Disorders

March 28, 2016


Families come in many shapes, many sizes and many kinds. We at the Houston Museum of Natural Science are always looking for ways to make our halls and collections more accessible to families of every background. That’s why we’re excited to announce our new resources for families of children with sensory sensitivities and autism spectrum disorders.

Over the past few months, we’ve been working with educators, families and professionals to develop resources that will make your family’s visit to HMNS more enjoyable. These resources can be used as pre-visit tools to plan your trip to the museum as well as during your visit to make navigating the exhibit halls easier. Take a look at what we’ve prepared for you below!

Visual Vocabulary

Use our Visual Vocabulary Cards to make visiting new spaces and transitioning between museum halls easier. You can also use these cards to create a visual schedule of your day at HMNS!

Sensory Map

Our Sensory Map provides you with information about what sensory stimuli your child can expect in each exhibit, including noise levels, visual stimulation and tactile components. Use this guide to plan your visit and decide which exhibit halls are appropriate for your family. You can also use this map to ensure your transitions and pathways between museum halls are appropriate for your child’s sensory needs.

HMNS Exploration Planner

Visit HMNS before you walk through the doors! Use our Exploration Planner to let your child know what to expect during your day at the museum, from waiting in line at the box office to exploring our many exhibit halls. Let Dipsy the Diplodocus give you helpful tips on what to look for along the way!Access2

Laminated copies of these resources will be available for you to check out at Museum Services, just inside the main exhibit hall entrance. You are welcome to use these copies, or feel free to bring your own printed versions!

Make sure to check out our Accessibility page for more helpful tips, like what days and times are the quietest or where you can easily park for your visit. We are committed to making this experience as easy as possible for you and your family.


Accessibility is a cause near and dear to our hearts. The three of us are educators and work with kids of all kinds every day, and our goal is to make HMNS an open and welcoming environment for literally everyone.

We hope you’ll take advantage of these resources during your next visit to HMNS. Your family will be a great addition to our family.

If you have any questions, concerns or feedback regarding accessibility, please feel free to contact us.

Authored By Julia Russell

Julia began at HMNS in 2008 as an intern and fell in love with the nerdy museum environment. She currently works in Business Analytics as the Program Growth Manager. When she’s not at the museum, she’s busy inundating her friends with the latest dinosaur facts. They’re mostly disappointed that pterodactyls aren’t actually dinosaurs.

5 responses to “Families First: HMNS Expands Accessibility to Accommodate Autism Spectrum Disorders”

  1. Allison Biehl says:

    I love this! Good on HMNS for considering the needs of those on the autism spectrum. One thing to keep in mind, though: there are a LOT of adult autistics who might also want to visit the museum, whether or not they also have children on the spectrum. At least one “you or your child” in the explanation text would go a long way toward welcoming more patrons.

  2. Jason says:

    Hi, Allison! Thank you so much for your feedback regarding our new access programming. We want to ensure we’re considering visitors of all ages that have sensory needs or are on the spectrum. Accordingly, we’ve edited the language on our accessibility page to be more inclusive of both adults and children. You can visit http://www.hmns.org/accessibility to see these changes and view our resources. We hope you’ll enjoy this new programming during your next visit to HMNS! Please feel free to send any additional feedback or suggestions to accessprogramming@hmns.org. Thanks again!

  3. Lorree says:

    I tried emailing you at the above link but it was undelivered due to your restrictions I guess. But here is what I wrote:
    I just read about your new accessibility for special needs people. I think that’s great but many can’t go to the museum during normal business hours due to overwhelming sensory issues to lights and sounds and such.  One of the best things you can do for special needs people is offer the museum open only to special needs families a couple times a year.  The children’s museum does this and it is an amazing time for the kids.  And your museum would be open to disabled people of all ages so even a bigger plus! I highly recommend you think about this option as I know you would have a large turnout from the special needs community especially the autism community.  Of you have any questions I’d be happy to talk to you more.  Thank you.

  4. Sahil says:

    Hi Lorree, thanks for your comment and your idea. Our email address accessprogramming@hmns.org works again, so please feel free to email us with any more suggestions you have! We will discuss any and all of them. Thank you!

  5. Silvia says:

    Hello! I also agree with Lorree’s suggestion. We attended yesterday with our 4.5 yr old…after waiting almost 30 minutes in the member ticket line and wading through what appeared to be several elementary school classes, my autistic son was near a meltdown. I would have loved to explore the accommodations that you described above, but was not aware of them prior to having read this page this morning. We attend the Sensory Friendly Day at the Children’s Museum and would highly encourage the HMNS to offer the same. I’m sure it would be well attended!

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