In January 2020, Scitech hosted a Sensory Session at the Science Centre, in partnership with Autism WA. This was the first open invitation event Scitech has held for this community group, paving the way for more experiences of this kind in the future.
Preparation for the event began in October 2019, with Science Centre staff attending training with Autism WA. Scitech itself is already a sensory experience, however the intention of the night was to provide a safe and inclusive space where children with autism could react and respond naturally without fear of censure. For some attendees, it was their first outing to a large public venue.
On the night, 17 staff and volunteers from Autism WA were on hand to help Scitech staff, which included putting up many laminated visual cues to assist guests.
Several modifications were made to the Science Centre to create an inclusive space, such as turning down the volume on certain exhibits and reducing lighting overall, including flashing LED lights. Specific areas were also designated as sensory break zones.
Shows were adjusted to cater to smaller groups and by all accounts were thoroughly enjoyed. In the Puppet Theatre, presenter Ashley Ure experienced “some of the best shows and children she’d ever had”. Over in the Chevron Science Theatre, presenter Melanie Gregory prepared the audience for noises and surprises so effectively that no one left the show early.
In total, 109 adults and 91 children attended the event. Anecdotal feedback from parents was extremely positive, with many claiming they had wanted to come to Scitech for a long time but had always been too nervous to do so.
Feedback from Ellie Forde, Qualified Educator at the Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre was also heartfelt: “On behalf of Leanne and myself, we would like to say a massive thankyou to everyone that worked Friday night to assist with the Sensory Session. It went off without a hitch and was very successful with most attendees lasting the whole 3 hours!
“We have had amazing feedback from the families, some who just couldn’t pull their children away because they were having so much fun and some that had never attended any kind of event before and had a ball!
“A special thanks to Amber for being so attentive the entire night and being so hospitable to staff, families and children. The shows were amazing and adapted perfectly for all to enjoy!
Thank you again for such a great collaboration and we hope to work with you again in the near future.”
This collaboration with Autism WA creates further alignment between Scitech and the WA Government’s State STEM Strategy, specifically in relation to ‘Diverse Backgrounds’ – to enhance participation of people from all backgrounds in STEM. The long-term impact of experiences like Scitech’s Sensory Session can assist marginalised people to understand and engage in a STEM learning pathway than can assist in preparing for opportunities in the future workforce, or simply for life in general where problem solving and critical thinking skills are equally important.
For Scitech, supporting accessibility also responds to our mission statement “to increase awareness, interest, capability and participation by all Western Australians in STEM.” The Sensory Session made the Autism community feel welcome at the Scitech Science Centre while providing invaluable guidance on how Scitech can be more accommodating in the future through training and program variations.
Another evening had been scheduled for April before public gathering restrictions were implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When it becomes possible to do so again, Scitech will be ramping up their partnership with Autism WA to provide safe, inclusive and incredibly fun events for their members and guests.