Events and resources for autistic children

Find out more about our range of initiatives to support and welcome families with autistic children.

National Museums Scotland is committed to encouraging children and young people on the autism spectrum to visit and enjoy our museums.
We now have a range of initiatives to support and welcome families with autistic children to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Early Doors and After Hours

Early Doors (under 16s) and After Hours (age 16+) events are designed to allow access to galleries, exhibitions and activities prior to and after the Museum’s busy public opening hours (which are 10am-5pm).

Previous events have explored Ancient Egypt through early access to the exhibition The Tomb with real and replica handling artefacts, and a chance to take part in the summer activity programme Jacobite Juniors inspired by the exhibition Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites.

Our events programme for autistic children and young people is updated regularly. 

Sensory backpacks

Four colourful sensory backpacks are now available to borrow for free for autistic children and young people.

Sensory backpacks for autistic children are available to borrow

Above: Sensory backpacks are available to borrow.

They contain an appealing selection of items ranging from fun and soothing sensory toys to ear-defenders and dark glasses, and have been created to support and enhance the museum experience for both children and families.

Visual museum communication cards are provided, enabling children to highlight particular objects of interest during their visit, while topic-specific books are included for a quiet moment of relaxation.

These resources are available free of charge from the Tower Entrance Information Desk on Level 1, and can be used for any length of time during your visit. They should be returned to the Tower Entrance desk. Museum explorer stickers will be issued as a thank you for their safe return.

Communication cards

Communication card showing Dolly the Sheep

Above: Communication card showing Dolly the Sheep.

A selection of visual communication cards (in the style of PECS) have been developed for some of our most popular objects in the museum. These are available to download before visiting to help with planning your visit and can also be borrowed from the Museum’s information desks.

Preparing for your visit

The Museum has developed a general visual story featuring pictures of the museum and some information about what to expect when you visit. It is available in both Powerpoint form so you can edit it yourself or in PDF.

There is also lots of information available on the museum’s website. This also includes a short video (less than one minute) which shows you a number of the spaces in the Museum.

Download a map to show you possible routes around the museum, where the toilets are and where the different galleries are.

Download our picture communication cards of some of the museums’ most popular objects. These include information about their location.

Have a look at our pre-visit visual story which has lots of information about what to expect when you visit.

Getting to the museum

Information about getting to the museum can be found here.

You may wish to enter the museum via the Tower Entrance – this avoids the busy entrance hall by the main entrance and the need to go upstairs/lift to get into the main part of the museum.

All resources, including the sensory backpacks, are available at the Tower Entrance Desk.

The Tower Entrance to the National Museum of Scotland

Above: The Tower Entrance to the National Museum of Scotland.

Is the museum noisy and busy?

It can get noisy and busy in the museum, particularly over the summer and during school holidays. There are also a number of exhibits that feature noises. Particular things to note include:

  • The Millenium Clock – this goes off on the hour and includes music, lights and moving parts.
  • The Ritchie clock in the Grand Gallery will make a sound every 15 minutes but it’s not too loud.
  • The hand dryers in the toilets are quite loud so please be aware if you are using these facilities.
  • The Imagine gallery and Performance and Lives both have musical instruments which can be played.
  • There are a number of audio-visual displays (videos) within the museum – if these are a problem a member of staff can advise of other galleries to visit.

In general, the Scottish galleries and the Art and Design galleries are calmer spaces.

Less busy times to visit include Monday–Thursday, 15:00–17:00 and weekends 10:00–11:00. Sunny days are usually less busy too.

Is there a place to go if my child is distressed?

If at any time your child finds the visit overwhelming, a member of staff can direct you to quieter areas in the Museum. A number of calmer spaces are also identified in the pre-visit social story.

Who can I ask for help?

If you have any questions or problems during your visit, please speak to a member of our Visitor Experience team. They will be present throughout the galleries or at our information desks in the Entrance Hall, the Tower Entrance or outside the Level 3 Exhibition Gallery. The Visitor Experience team wear purple shirts and navy blazers.

Visitor Experience staff at the Information Desk in the Entrance Hall

Above: A member of our Visitor Experience team at the Information Desk in the Entrance Hall.

You may also see members of our Learning Enabler team in the museum. They are situated in our family-orientated galleries (Imagine, Adventure Planet and Explore) and may also be running family activities including object handling, crafts, storytelling or science demos. Learning Enablers wear green tops and black trousers. You can find out more about our family programming here.

Feedback and further information

We are always striving to improve the museum experience for autistic children and young people and would welcome any feedback or queries you might have. Please contact Communities.l& or call 0131 247 4435.

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