Museum Highlights Ron Leflore

Philadelphia's Sensory-Friendly Attractions & Performances

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At more than 200 years old,The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is America's Oldest natural history museum. Photo by J. Fusco for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

Philly Venues & Groups Offer Programming For People With Sensory Sensitivity

PHILADELPHIA PA (Gloucestercitynews.net)--Inclusivity is embedded in the original promise of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. Today, the region keeps that promise to residents and visitors with sensory sensitivity. Some of Philly’s most popular attractions, including The Franklin Institute and Please Touch Museum® have sensory-friendly policies and programming. So, too, do eminent arts organizations such as Pennsylvania Ballet and The Philadelphia Orchestra. This month, the Philadelphia Eagles added a 500-square foot sensory room to their stadium, Lincoln Financial Field.

Much credit for the region’s expanding sensory-friendly offerings goes to Roger Ideishi,program director of occupational therapy at Temple University. Ideishi facilitates arts and cultural environments that respect both the needs of people with cognitive disabilities and the expression of the artists and attractions themselves. Here’s a look at Philadelphia venues and groups that have recently expanded their sensory-friendly programming:

Sensory-Friendly Attractions:

  • Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University – Philadelphia’s dinosaur museum offers children with autism and their families exclusive Access to Science six Saturday or Sunday mornings (9-11 a.m.) per year. For these occasions and any day, visual, easy-to-follow pre-visit Museum Stories help prepare visitors of all developmental abilities for exploring the museum, including the exhibition Dinosaurs Around the World (open through January 20, 2020). August 25, October 27, November 2 and December 27, 2019. 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 299-1060, ansp.org
  • Adventure Aquarium – The Delaware River Waterfront, home to blue penguins, a hammerhead shark and approximately 8,500 more aquatic species, instituted its first sensory-friendly event in 2018. The aquarium partnered with South Jersey-based Samulance to produce F.I.S.H. Night: Family Inclusive Special Hours, when the already largely dimly lit venue further adjusts lighting and sound levels to create a relaxed setting for all visitors. Dates TBA. 1 Riverside Drive, Camden, NJ, (844) 474-FISH, adventureaquarium.com
  • Brandywine River Museum of Art – A bucolic campus surrounds galleries known for three generations of Wyeths, which open select mornings for free Sensory-Friendly Saturdays. Registered families receive pre-visit social stories and enjoy hands-on activities, along with support from experienced volunteers, fidgets, noise-cancelling headphones and sensory break areas. Any day, visitors may borrow a sensory-friendly museum pack containing social stories, fidgets, noise-cancelling headphones and activities suggestions. January 4 (Train Morning) and March 28, 2020. 1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford, (610) 388-8120, brandywine.org
  • The Franklin Institute – On five Sensory-Friendly Sundays per year, the tri-state area’s most-visited museum opens its doors early (8 a.m.), modifies exhibits and employs trained staff and volunteers to create a comfortable environment for visitors on the autism spectrum. Guests who pre-register are admitted free of charge, as are visitors who arrive before 9:30 a.m. The event ends at noon. Every day, sensory maps are available for permanent and temporary exhibits. December 1, 2019. 222 N. 20th Street, (215) 448-1200, fi.edu
  • LEGOland Discovery Center® Philadelphia – At Special Sensory Days (really, early evenings, 5-7 p.m.) at this indoor Montgomery County attraction, staff trained with The Ruttenberg® Autism Center help create a calm, quiet, gentle environment for children to play with the world’s most popular toys. Break rooms, reduced light, music therapy and pre- and during-visit social stories are available to families, along with a reduced ticket price. September 17 andNovember 19, 2019. Plymouth Meeting Mall, 500 W. Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, (267) 245-9696, legolanddiscoverycenter.com
  • National Constitution Center – The museum dedicated to the four most powerful pages in U.S. history holds Sensory Friendly Sundays four times a year. Each all-day event comes with pre-visit guides, emotionally safe spaces, modified programming and staff trained to assist all guests. August 25, and December 8, 2019. 525 Arch Street, (215) 409-6700, constitutioncenter.org
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art – Sensory-Friendly Mornings take place quarterly before select Sunday Family Programs within galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and on select summer Wednesdays and Saturdays as part of Art Splash, an interactive exhibition for children that relates to featured exhibition, Souls Grown Deep: Artists of the African American South, in the Perelman Building (August 21 & 24, 2019). With lowered lights and volume, fewer crowds, the 1.5-hour session offers sensory break areas, on-hand occupational therapists and hands-on art activities geared toward many developmental levels. Registered participants receive a pre-visit social guide. November 16, 2019; February 23, 2020. Main Building, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway; Perelman Building, 2525 Pennsylvania Avenue, (215) 763-8100, philamuseum.org
  • Philadelphia Zoo – America’s first zoo worked with the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to create KidZooU, a hands-on, child-centric exhibit that uses the Universal Design concept to offer an inclusive, enriching experience for children. Pre-visit materials, including a picture-exchange system, are available on the zoo’s website. 3400 W. Girard Avenue, (215) 243-1100, philadelphiazoo.org
  • Please Touch Museum® The premise of this boundless little kid destination: Children learn through play. Every day, Please Touch offers a dedicated quiet space, sound-reducing headphones and staff trained to help everyone. Four Sunday mornings per year, Play Without Boundaries serves children with learning and developmental disabilities and on the autism spectrum with a sensory-friendly, all-access museum experience with Floreo virtual reality, therapy animals and community health experts. September 8, October 6 and November 3, 2019. Memorial Hall, 4231 Avenue of the Republic, (215) 581-3181, pleasetouchmuseum.org
  • Sesame Place – Just over 25 miles northeast of Center City, this vibrant amusement and water park, home to Elmo, Big Bird, Abby Cadabby and Julia, has trained its staff in sensory awareness, motor and social skills, emotional awareness and communication. Sesame Place offers designated quiet rooms and low-sensory areas and a sensory guide for its attractions. 100 Sesame Road, Langhorne, (215) 702-3566, sesameplace.com

Sensory-Friendly Performances:

  • Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts – The centerpiece of the Avenue of the Arts select productions with relaxed house rules, designated quiet areas, trained staff and Art-Reach volunteers and sensory-friendly kits (noise-cancelling headphones, weighted bean bags, fidget toys). Audience members are welcome to bring their own sensory-friendly stress relief devices and move about as they wish. On November 23, 2019, the Merriam Theater hosts a sensory-friendly noon performance of The Rainbow Fish, the stage version of the beloved children’s book series. 250 S. Broad Street, (215) 893-1999, kimmelcenter.org
  • LiveConnections – This music nonprofit prioritizes accessibility across its educational and concert programming, especially Bridge Sessions, at its partner venue, World Cafe Live. Skilled teaching artists lead 75-minute educational performances that mix in interactive activities and provide multiple ways for all-age participants to engage in music-making through call-and-response, movement, playing percussion instruments, creating rhythm poems and more. Lighting and sound adjustments, cool-down space, sensory toys and know-before-you-go guides are available. 3025 Walnut Street, (267) 295-2946, liveconnections.org
  • Montgomery Theater – This intimate venue puts on one relaxed performance per family musical, play or comedy, offering pre-visit materials, partially up house lights, loosened rules, quiet space, sound mitigation and a modified refund policy. The next such performances: Bill D’Agostino’s Imaginary, October 19, 2019 and Nuncrackers, the Nunsense Christmas Musical, November 30, 2019. 124 N. Main Street, Souderton, (215) 723-9984, montgomerytheater.org
  • Pennsylvania Ballet – Come winter, Philadelphia’s eminent ballet company offers its sensory-friendly performance of the popular George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® (December 30, 2019). Pre-show materials guide patrons on going to the theater, the stories behind the choreography, music, setting and characters. The theater adjusts sound and lighting and relaxes its rules—free movement and expression are welcome—and adds a quiet space and gluten-free concessions. Fairy, (610) 622-1189; Nutcracker, (215) 551-7000, paballet.org, paballet.org/season-tickets/sensory-friendly-performances
  • People’s Light – The mission of this large, nonprofit, professional suburban theater is education through performance. During Relaxed Performances, the house becomes a shush-free zone, so patrons with autism, ADD, ADHA, dementia and sensory sensitivities can freely express themselves during musicals and more. House lights remain low; startling lighting is reduced; sounds levels are lowered; crowds are limited; the lobby opens a quiet area, and fidget, stress- sensory toys and disposable ear plugs are available. Upcoming performances include: Our Town, August 23, 2019; Colman Domingo’s Dot, October 18, 2019; Little Red Riding Hood: A Musical Panto, December 21, 2019; Shakespeare in Love, March 15, 2020. 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, (610) 644-3500, peopleslight.org, peopleslight.org/visit/accessibility/relaxed-performances
  • The Philadelphia Orchestra – The orchestra has long shared its talents with children and families during their Sound All Aroundconcerts, held on the comfortable carpet of the Academy of Music ballroom. The group also designates the Saturday edition of these popular, intimate performances as sensory-friendly (Percussion, September 14, 2019; Woodwinds, October 19, 2019; Strings, November 16, 2019; Brass, February 8, 2020; Ensemble, March 21, 2020). . The full orchestra’s sensory-friendly performances—and most family concerts—feature a no-shush policy, cool-down spaces, lighting adjustments, trained helpers and both planned and impromptu interaction between musicians and audience members, in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Halloween Spooktacular, October 26, 2019; Christmas Kids’ Spectacular, December 14, 2019; Carnival of the Animals, March 7, 2020; The Life and Times of Beethoven, May 2, 2020. Academy, 240 S. Broad Street; Kimmel, 300 S. Broad Street, (215) 893-1900, philorch.org
  • Theatre Horizon – This Montgomery Country theater began offering an Autism Drama Program a decade ago and has served 680 children and adults in six-week, spring-through-fall sessions. Each season brings relaxed performances of major productions, including The Hound of the BaskervillesNovember 22, 2019. 401 DeKalb Street, Norristown, (610) 283-2230, theatrehorizon.org
  • Walnut Street Theatre – America’s oldest continuously operating theater offers sensory-friendly productions of its kids’ shows and plans a sensory-friendly performances for older children and adults with sensory sensitivity. The company also offers a 10-week course of weekly acting classes for children on the spectrum, a program that uses theater exercises and games and culminates in the class creating its very own performance. 825 Walnut Street, (215) 574-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org

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