An art museum at Rutgers University-New Brunswick has become the first of its kind in the tri-state area to offer specialized tools to help visitors on the autism spectrum enjoy their visits without sensory overload.

Amanda Potter, curator of education and interpretation at the Zimmerli Museum, said the art museum collaborated with nonprofit KultureCity to offer specialized kits filled with materials that provide a more positive experience for those with autism, PTSD or other conditions that may make intense sensory experiences difficult.

The sensory inclusive bag at the Zimmerli includes fidget tools, like fidget spinners, which help children move their focus away from distressing thoughts or experiences. There are cue cards for people with verbal impairments, to communicate their needs and moods. Noise-cancelling headphones are available for those who need them.

Autism affects the nervous system, Potter said. It can create feelings of vertigo or the sense of a lack of gravity. People with autism can't always feel their own body weight, so for some, the feeling is constant and very disorienting. So weighted lap pads at the museum can help users regain a sense of their center of gravity.

KultureCity's Sensory-Inclusive app displays available sensory devices at the Zimmerli Museum, with information on how they can be accessed, and helps visitors prepare for their visit.


Potter said all of the museum's guard staff and behind-the-scenes staff have been trained in how to recognize sensory processing disorders, so they can identify and better assist visitors.

The sensory tools can help people of all ages, Potter said. There is also a special necklace or lanyard that visitors can wear that alerts staff to keep a close eye, in case the visitor gets separated from a group, or just need extra care and attention.

Potter said families will benefit from this initiative in particular because New Jersey has one of the highest rates of autism in the country.

This is just the start, Potter said. The museum is in exploratory talks with Rutgers' Center for Adult Autism Services to help find more ways to help the autism community in New Jersey, including providing job services, having customized field trips and creating quiet spaces during crowded events.

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