The Children’s Museum of the East End hosted its first sensory-friendly morning on Saturday, December 8. Created in partnership with the Flying Point Foundation for Autism, the new event drew 30 families from across Long Island. Special museum access with dimmed lighting, art rooms, open play areas, sound-reduced exhibits, and quiet spaces were provided to encourage a soothing environment for children on the autism spectrum or with sensory-processing disorders.
“Our goal was to provide a safe, judgment-free environment for the children and give them an opportunity to enjoy and explore the museum, giving them the sensory experiences that they need,” stated Liz Bard, CMEE’s director of education.
“Other children’s museums nationwide host programs such as this. We want it to be a wonderful program and are asking the families that come to fill out a survey and give us their feedback and suggestions on how to make it better. We will use those surveys to help improve and further create the program,” she added.
This growing segment of the population needs to be addressed on the East End,” said Elizabeth Barrowcliffe of Sag Harbor, who drives her son, Olin, to a program in Ronkokoma “because there are no adequate programs out here,” she said. “You have to give families the help that they need and create programs.”
In another room within the museum, Marcia Santiago watched her three-year-old son proudly stack make-believe ice cream onto a cone in a mock soda-shop. While Santiago expressed her appreciation for the new program and the efforts being made by CMEE and the Flying Point Foundation, she was unable to hide her frustration with the lack of services available to autistic children.
“It’s desperate out here! Early intervention is non-existent here on the East End,” said Santiago. Being of Latino descent, Santiago added, “The Spanish community, in particular, is in a bigger denial than others. Regardless of your ethnic background, no one wants to admit that something is wrong and their child is not developing or talking. Everyone goes through and experiences denial. But it’s worse when you’re Spanish. You already stand out. Nothing is in your native language and they just don’t want to take their children and have them stand out even more.”
When Santiago found out that her son was unable to speak and communicate, she decided to go back to school, enrolling at St. Joseph’s College as a speech communication major. She plans to attend a graduate program at Long Island University to receive her certification as a registered behavioral technician, which will allow her to work with children on the Autism spectrum and those with sensory processing disorders. “When I have my certification, I will be staying local so that I can help in my community,” she said.
The CMEE Sensory Friendly Mornings are scheduled for the first Saturday of every month from 8 to 10 AM. For information and to pre-register (required), visit www.cmee.org.