Training Module: Welcoming Visitors with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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This workshop is designed to use guided questions, activities, as well as short audio recordings of adults who have Asperger Syndrome sharing their museum experiences, with the aim of increasing awareness and understanding about characteristics and behaviors associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), challenges commonly faced by people with autism at cultural institutions, and concrete steps that can be taken to improve accommodations and programs for visitors with ASD. As the facilitator of the workshop, we encourage you to tailor this learning module based on your specific setting, training goals, and staff training needs.

This training module was developed by the Museum Access Consortium and supported by The FAR Fund to better equip cultural professionals with tools and techniques for providing more welcoming experiences for visitors with autism and their caregivers at their home institutions.



Staff will:

  • Gain a basic understanding of autism spectrum disorder and some of the characteristics and behaviors commonly associated with autism.
  • Understand some of the challenges that people with autism often encounter at cultural sites and identify how these challenges play out at a specific site or in a specific program.
  • Learn key considerations and strategies for providing a more welcoming environment and more welcoming programs at cultural sites for visitors who have autism spectrum disorder.

Teaching Objectives

Facilitators of this workshop will:

  • Increase awareness and understanding of autism spectrum disorder and common characteristics and behaviors most commonly associated with ASD.
  • Use audio clips, activities, and group discussion to introduce some of the challenges that visitors with autism commonly face at cultural and recreational sites.
  • Introduce best practices for adapting the environment and/or programs so that they are more accessible and welcoming for people who have autism.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lesson, participants will be able to:

  • Articulate a broad definition of autism spectrum disorder and name several characteristics and behaviors that are commonly associated with ASD.
  • Describe several challenges visitors with autism spectrum disorder commonly face when visiting museums and recreational sites.
  • Identify specific steps that can be taken to improve programs and/or their cultural setting to provide a more welcoming experience for visitors with autism.


  • Introduction and Assessment of Prior Knowledge & Experiences (15-30 mins)
  • Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder (15-45 mins, see below)
  • Listen to Audio Clips and Share Reflections (30 mins)
  • Applications (20 mins)



Materials Needed:

  • Access to the internet to play audio clips
  • A computer or iPhone and an audio system or speakers are needed to listen to audio clips
  • Paper
  • Writing utensils
  • Copies of Best Practices for Autism-Friendly Cultural Settings and Programs
  • Flipchart paper
  • Sticky notes  

Recommended Readings

As a baseline, we encourage all facilitators of this workshop to review the ASD signs and symptoms on the CDC website and the standardized criteria for the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, an overview of which appears on the CDC website based on The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). For even more in-depth explanations of the standardized criteria with concrete examples, we recommend DSM-5 Autism Spectrum Disorder: Guidelines and Criteria Exemplars (2013), by Laura Carpenter, PhD BCBA Associate Professor of Pediatrics Medical University of South Carolina.

A note to the facilitator about the use of the audio clips:

As the audio clips are a key component of this learning module, please be sure to listen to and/or read the transcripts prior to playing them for your staff.  Choose only the audio clips that are appropriate to your setting and/or goals for your training session. If you are interested in listening to the entire workshop, you and your staff are welcome to view a full transcript of the workshop and access an audio recording of the entire session by clicking here.



Introduction and Assessment of Prior Knowledge & Experiences (15 mins)

Introduce yourself and your organization.

The main goal of this training workshop is to improve our understanding of autism and how we can adapt our approach to programming and the institution as a whole to provide more welcoming experiences for people who have autism and their families and friends.

Survey audience (5 minutes):

Ask your audience to raise their hands in response to the questions below.

  • Do you know someone who has autism?
  • Do you have a personal relationship with someone who has autism?
  • Have you interacted with people who have autism at work, either with colleagues and/or with visitors?

Accessibility Tip: After each question, the facilitator should always verbally summarize the responses, by either: 1) saying aloud the names of the people who raised their hands (if the group is small in numbers); 2) saying the number of total hands raised (if the group is medium-sized) out of the total number of people in the room; or 3) verbally estimating the percentage of hands raised (if the group is large in numbers).  Verbal summaries of the number of hands raised supports auditory learners and ensures the full participation of individuals who are blind or partially sighted, people who are hard of hearing and may be focused on the presenter rather than hands raised, as well as other members of the audience.

As illustrated by this informal survey of the room, many of us have personal or professional experience with people who have autism.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated number of children who are diagnosed with autism in the United States is 1 in 68.

People with autism make up a significant percentage of the general population and are already visiting us and participating in our programs.  The more we can learn about autism, especially from people who have autism or who care for people with autism, the more we’ll be able to understand how best to provide an integrated setting, specialized programs, and effective communication tools for people with ASD, as well as their educators and caregivers.

Activity: Assessment of Prior Knowledge & Experiences (25 minutes)

This activity is designed for the facilitator to assess the prior knowledge and experience of workshop participants.

Materials for this activity:

  • 4 pieces of flip chart paper
  • Sticky notepads for everyone in the room
  • Writing utensils for everyone in the room

In preparation for this activity, place one piece of flip chart paper on four tables around the room (or on the wall). Write one of each of the following questions or prompts on each piece of flip chart paper:

  • Experiences:

    What kinds of experiences have you had with people who have ASD, either personally or professionally?

  • Rewards:

    What has been rewarding about your experiences with people who have autism?

  • Challenges:

    If applicable, what has been challenging about your experiences with people who have autism?

  • Questions:

    What questions do you have about autism that you hope are answered by today’s workshop?

Provide at least four post-it notes to each of the participants. Instruct participants to take 10 minutes to consider each of the sets of questions, inviting them to conduct this activity on their own or in pairs, whichever you prefer: 1) Experiences; 2) Rewards; 3) Challenges; and 4) Questions. Invite participants to write down their responses to questions on each flip chart and then post their responses to the relevant flip chart.

Accessibility Tip: By giving the option to participants to conduct the activity alone or in pairs, it allows for a more accessible experience. By choosing to write down notes individually, participants might appreciate the ability to self-identify but do so anonymously. By pairing up, people who may have difficulty with writing down their own contributions on sticky notes, such as people who are blind or people who have disabilities that affect writing skills, would be able to get assistance from their partner.

After all contributions are made to the relevant flip charts, divide the room out into four groups and ask each group to discuss and review one of the flip charts and share out summaries of each with the rest of the room.

Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder

(15-45 mins, depending on variation of activities selected)

 Depending on the timing of your workshop and your training goals and preferences, there are many multimedia and print resources available to you and your staff to learn about the definition, signs, symptoms, and diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Below, we have highlighted general information and recommended resources for trainers to review in preparation for this portion of the workshop:

Definitions of Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Read the Definition:

    The CDC website provides a clear and concise overview of Autism Spectrum Disorder: “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less… It is important to note that some people without ASD might also have some of these symptoms. But for people with ASD, the impairments make life very challenging… A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.”

Activity: An Introduction to the Signs and Symptoms of ASD

The CDC website provides a clear explanation of ASD signs and symptoms. Below are a variety of approaches to introducing the Signs of Symptoms to educator your staff. If time permits, we recommend individual review and group discussion:

  • Lecture:

    Summarize in a lecture or powerpoint format the Signs and Symptoms of ASD, as laid out by the CDC.

  • Individual Review and Group Discussion:

    Distribute Signs and Symptoms from CDC’s website and ask everyone to review both sheets and consider how these signs and symptoms might have an impact on visiting your cultural site or participating in your program. After providing 10 minutes for individual review, ask for a few of the participants to share what they learned about autism.

Listen to Audio Clips and Share Reflections (30 minutes)

Introduction to the audio clips and to GRASP:

Now that we’ve had the opportunity to review medical definitions related to autism spectrum disorder, we’re going to shift gears and focus on the advice and experiences of people who have ASD, an autism spectrum disorder.  During the next portion of this workshop, we’ll be listening to and learning from the museum experiences of individual people who have Asperger Syndrome, a . Audio clips for this activity include recorded excerpts from a workshop that was co-hosted by the Museum Access Consortium and GRASP on January 29, 2013 at The Museum of Modern Art entitled, “Adults on the Autism Spectrum Share their Museum Experiences.” GRASP is the largest organization in the world composed of adults who have autism and their work is dedicated to improving the lives of adults and teens on the autism spectrum through community outreach, peer supports, education, and advocacy. GRASP’s vision for the world is, “ to envision a world where all individuals on the autism spectrum are respected, valued, and fairly represented, where appropriate supports and services are readily available to those in need, where people on the spectrum are empowered to participate in personal decisions that affect their lives.” At the workshop, the moderator and panelists from GRASP shared their insights and advice with cultural professionals regarding how museums can provide more welcoming experiences for people who have autism spectrum disorder.

The selected audio clips are meant to provide the unique perspectives of several adults who have autism spectrum disorder and their individual experiences at cultural institutions. Recognizing that autism is a spectrum disorder, each person’s life experience is different; not all challenges faced by one person are reflected by another person’s experience. That being said, there are some challenges that people with ASD commonly face and the more we can understand and listen, the better we can respond to those challenges and accommodate the needs of all visitors.

Click here to play audio clips and print out transcripts of each recording.

Reflection Questions: Insights Gained from Listening to the Audio Clips

Depending on the group size, questions can be asked for small group discussions, a turn and talk with a colleague, or general group sharing:

  • What new ideas or perspectives did you gain about from listening to their experiences?  What did you learn from listening to these perspectives?
  • How did listening to these experiences and this feedback make you think differently about your interactions with visitors who have autism and the broader visiting public?
  • Describe what you noticed about the individual challenges they described? How are some of these challenges similar for the broader visiting public?

Applications (25 mins)


If time permits, facilitate break-out groups to discuss the questions below, as well as others that may be more pertinent to specific goals for your site or program.  If time is limited, ask all participants in the room to write down their individual reflections in response to the questions below and collect at the end. Invite each group or individuals, depending on how the activity is conducted, to share out their wish lists for how they’d like to see the institution’s facilities and programs become more accessible to people with autism spectrum disorder.

  • Personal action: What is ONE thing that I can do differently tomorrow to provide more welcoming experiences for people on the autism spectrum?

  • Blue-sky visioning: If you were able to adapt your setting and/or programs in any way to make them more accessible to people with autism, what would you do? How can you apply best practices and lessons learned from this workshop to our own setting and programs?

This resource is made possible thanks to the generous support from The FAR FundFAR Fund Logo

Your input and feedback make a difference

The Museum Access Consortium seeks to refine best practices over time based on input and feedback from cultural practitioners and disability communities. Please consider providing your feedback and input regarding this resource and ideas for further improvement and applications by emailing us at museumaccess [at] gmail [dot] com