By Mary Kate Sheppard, Staff Writer-
The Creative Discovery Museum is an excellent place for children to be exposed to exciting, educational and sometimes wacky experiences – even children with special needs.
The Creative Discovery Museum (CDM) has created a safe and fun environment for kids with special needs and disabilities for years. They achieved this by offering a wide selection of accommodations, resources and programs designed specifically for kids with disabilities.
A trip to the CDM for a child with special needs can be scary, especially since there can be so many triggers in a new place. To help with this, Museum Prep Stories was created for parents to read to children before a visit.
These two, short stories were created to help children prepare for their time in the museum by showing them what to expect and how they should behave. The stories also allow parents to decipher, with their kids, what will be okay for them to try, and what they should avoid.
Kyrstin Hill, the communications manager for the CDM, explained the goal of the prep stories.
“They’re social stories to help kids with disabilities know what to expect and anticipate,” Hill said. “The unexpected can be triggering, so these stories take away all the unexpected things.”
When families arrive for a fun day, the CDM also has several accommodations for children at the museum. The whole building is wheelchair accessible and headphones are offered free of charge upon request for kids with auditory sensitivities.
The CDM also offers a quiet space for kids who feel overwhelmed. Overstimulated children can take a break in the museum library, where they can find books with their parents.
The museum hosts sensory nights every first Monday of the month from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. These nights were created to offer low sensory events for kids with specific needs.
“Our sensory nights are for people with disabilities in mind,” Hill said, “They’re every Monday night for extended hours. We limit attendance to 100 people. We make no overhead announcements, nor do we cook any strong smelling foods. The goal is to just really create an environment that is more sensory friendly.”
The CDM has two major programs dedicated for kids with disabilities: Club Discovery and Friends Discovery Camp.
“Everyone is special and everyone deserves to be exposed to different and exciting things, and the Creative Discovery Museum is doing just that,” Hill said.
Club Discovery, or Club D, is an afterschool program that allows kids to grow academically and socially in a safe, fun environment while also exploring the museum.
“Sometimes we have siblings come in, one with special needs and one is a developing peer,” Hill said. “Club D allows them to enjoy the same thing in an environment where all children can feel safe and comfortable.”
Friends Discovery Club is a summer camp that involves The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s own students. Those studying psychology at UTC act as “Big Buddies” for kids with special needs. These students undergo “prepare camp” counseling training so that they are prepared to help kids learn, explore the CDM, and create new friendships.
In the words of Ms. Hill, “Everyone is special and everyone deserves to be exposed to different and exciting things and the Creative Discovery Museum is doing just that.”