Reaching for the Skies of Intrepid Autism Awesomeness by Jesse Saperstein

Many young people on the autism spectrum have interests such as exploring the solar system or piloting the heavens in the latest, aerodynamic invention the human race had developed.  Unfortunately, the intensity of such a passion is not always a passion shared by their Neurotypical classmates or even their peers who are also on the autism spectrum.  After all, when you have met one person with autism you have met one person with autism.  Some people are obsessed with dolphins and others collect obscure tidbits of Presidential trivia.  But for those who have ambition and the aptitude to unravel complex physics equations, it is nice to have at least one venue where they may shine uninterrupted and not be told, “It is time to change the subject.  Nobody else is interested in talking about the flight pattern for 860 Fighter Jet for forty minutes!”  Everyone on the autism spectrum needs to purge their energy once in a while in an organized, educational, and fun way.  One of these venues that caters to the beautiful light of those on the autism spectrum is The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, which is known for its variety of programs that are geared specifically toward youths on the autism spectrum.

Science has typically been my weakest subject, and I lasted approximately two weeks in a college astronomy class thinking that it was going to pertain to star-gazing and not Physics.  But I am still intrigued by such subjects and also support the interests of the next generation of young people on the autism spectrum.  Therefore, it was an honor to have been asked to participate in the Autism Advisory Council for one of their quarterly meetings on Tuesday, October 10th, 2017.

Even a utopia like a science museum must be sensitive to the needs and comfort zones of this enigmatic population with an extra layer of sensitivities.  For example, I used to always walk throughout New York City because the noise of passing subway trains was unbearable.  This time I chose to walk to the museum due to the fact that I needed the exercise and have found that the “destination often seems more weak if I choose to move my feet.”  The museum rested against the New York City harbor like a static battleship and a resting cruise ship was its neighbor.  Like any new experience, I did not know what to expect or whether it was possible to make a difference.  But we tend to miss one hundred percent of all shots we do not take.

A group of dedicated parents of children with autism and other prominent figures in the autism community were in attendance.  I immediately felt embraced by this group of collaborative thinkers that have benefited from the programs of the museum.  The goals of the Autism Advisory Council are as follows:

    • Provide feedback on lesson plans, supplemental materials and marketing materials for Early Openings for Autistics and children and teens with autism and their families;
    • Assist in the design of downloadable pre-visit materials for self-guided visits to museum;
    • Provide a forum for museum/parent communication;
    • Maintain and share knowledge of current research on effective programming and interventions that will enhance museum offerings for those with autism;
    • Monitor implementation of the autism programs for school groups and families;
    • Identify external funding sources to sustain and expand autism programming;
    • Encourage and promote access to autism-specific training to museum staff;
    • Promote museum offerings and improve communication with targeted stakeholders;
    • Review data from staff and parent staff and evaluations;
    • Provide social network opportunity;
    • And, advise museum staff on needs of individuals with autism and their parents and families.

We spoke about everything related to making the programs as comfortable as possible for the young people in attendance that includes overnight camps and proper food that is appealing to the dietary needs of the young visitors.  We focused on implementing programs related to the Solar System as well as a Drones exhibit that is closing on December 3rd.  There is also an overnight program called, “Operation Slumber.”

The best part of the Autism Advisory Council (besides the refreshments provided) was being included in a group that refuses to rest on their laurels and is always thinking of news ways to expand their programs.  I am looking forward to upcoming meetings and seeing what the future holds for this amazing edifice of science.