August 10, 2019 6:23 pm
Updated: August 11, 2019 1:54 pm

Royal Alberta Museum pilots sensory room for those with special needs

WATCH ABOVE: A pilot project is underway at the Royal Alberta Museum to trial a sensory room for those with sensory needs or seeking a quiet place. Julia Wong explains.


A pilot project is underway at the Royal Alberta Museum to trial a room meant to help those with sensory needs.

The sensory room at the museum opened at the beginning of summer. The quiet space, within the human history wing, has several features for those who have sensory needs or those who are looking for a quiet space.

The room has soft lighting, which family program coordinator Nancy Nickolson said is meant to have a calming effect.

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Different kinds of lighting, such as rope lights around the edge of the room and light cubes that shift colour, are also meant to be soothing, Nickolson said.

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Animal noises play in the background of the room, and there are bean bags and mats for visitors, along with pillows and rugs that have different textures.

Nickolson said the room is for people of all ages, and she believes it is making a difference.

READ MORE: 24,000+ visitors flock to newly opened Royal Alberta Museum

“Bright lights, lots of crowds, things like that can really stop people from coming altogether,” Nickolson said.

“Our marketing team showed me a post someone put on Facebook. They tagged their friend and said, ‘I can take you to the museum now,’ implying that they didn’t really feel like they could come before. I see the need. I have conversations with families all the time that this really makes a difference for them.

“When I hear people say: ‘I couldn’t have come to the museum otherwise,’ that’s a big deal, right? That’s someone saying this space wasn’t accessible to me before and now it is.”

Shannon Porte has a daughter, Madeline, who is three years old and has Down’s syndrome. She said spaces like the sensory room are important.

“Some of our kids do get sensory overloaded and some of them don’t do well with crowds,” she said.

“To still be able to come to a place like the museum…that the kids can still have a space where they have a quiet spaces, tolerates it a little bit easier. I think it’s a perfect opportunity for kids like Madeline.”

Porte said Madeline likes to try new things and experience new environments but she can sometimes become overwhelmed.

“Depending on the noise level, how many kids are there, she can tolerate it for a little while. Sometimes she does reach her breaking point and… Usually she’ll ask me to leave the room and just needs that quiet time for a little bit,” she said.

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Porte’s family visited the sensory room on Saturday for the first time.

“This is great. This would be a perfect opportunity, like if she was getting overwhelmed in the regular kids’ area, it could be somewhere…[she can] have a little bit of time to herself,” Porte said.

“She was liking the blocks that change colours, the mats that are squishy. Those are all perfect for her to explore. She really likes trying new things so at least this way it’s quiet and she had the space to herself so that’s always helpful too.”

READ MORE: More than chairs: How Alberta classrooms are going outside the box to engage kids

The pilot project wraps up at the end of the summer. Nickolson said the program will then be evaluated to determine what next steps should be taken.

Porte said she hopes the sensory room becomes a permanent fixture.

“We have some friends — none of us knew it was here, so I’m sure there would be lots of parents that would take advantage of this room,” she said.

Sensory kits for both children and adults are available to be rented at the museum to guide visitors who have special needs. The kits include a sensory map that lists quiet, loud and bright areas, as well as headphones, sunglasses and fidget toys.

The museum also runs a program called Sensory Sundays, where those with sensory needs are able to visit the museum before it opens to the general public. The next Sensory Sunday runs Sept. 15.

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