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West Michigan museum provides for kids with Autism

Noah Levering was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. He's been to two sessions at the museum and his mother says he's improved immensely. Photo from WWMT file video.

For parents who have a child with Autism, just the idea of going to a new place can be intimidating. One West Michigan museum is trying to change that by not only making their exhibits more sensory friendly, but also by prepping families.

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum has featured three free workshops since December 2017 on Autism. Program's Coordinator Annette Hoppenworth said they started the program with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Grand Rapids with the goal of making the museum more inclusive.

"One of the things I learned is that children on the autism spectrum don't like surprises," Hoppenworth said. "Part of what makes a new visit successful is the preparation."

Preparation has paid off for parent Jeri Leigh Levering. Her son, Noah, was diagnosed with Autism a few months ago. She's attended two workshops at the Museum. The second in March went much smoother.

"We're having a lot of separation anxiety and some troubles getting him to be away from my side and to explore his environment without his parents right there with him," Levering said.

The sessions are set up to let parents learn in a room called the "Think Tank," which has glass doors. The kids are on the other side of the wall where they can play. On their first try, Noah didn't want to partake.

"He was afraid to be on the other side of the glass," Levering said. "He wouldn't leave my side. He was crying and he was very scared to leave the room."

But, Levering took what she learned and prepared for round two.

"We've been talking for two weeks about how our trip to the museum is going to go this time," Levering said. "He was able to be on the other side of the glass. He was able to play the entire hour during the presentation, and I was able to sit and learn more great things."

The Museum is working now to get an online walk through of the museum on their website. This will let parents show their children from start to finish what they'll be doing on their trip.

For more information on the Autism program you can contact the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

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