Space Center Houston breaking barriers with autism inclusion effort

- At a place obsessed with scientific exploration and the breaching of new frontiers, a pioneering play has been made to ensure the enrichment offered is fully shared by all — call it the launch of a worthy mission.

"To reach out to the community who are living with autism and ask how can we be more available and accessible to them," said William Harris, president and chief executive officer of Space Center Houston.

In a world where words often fall short of actions, Space Center Houston has endeavored to make its inclusive commitment concrete with the kind of extensive staff training and tools demanded of a Certified Autism Center as designated by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.

For example, the "sensory sensitive kit" complete with anxiety-relieving cue cards and stimulation guides for each and every exhibit.

"To help relieve anxiety, we have different things that a guest can hold or squeeze," described Harris. "Sometimes there's too much visual stimulation, so we provide a pair of sunglasses and sometimes it's auditory stimulation, so we provide noise-muffling headsets."

At a world-renowned science center where as many as one in 50 visitors lives, often without being able to be detected as such, on the autism spectrum, the new accommodations make undeniable sense.

"This is a major institutional commitment," added Harris.

It's the kind of commitment that Amanda Swartz and her disabled daughter Noelle welcome in a nation where barriers remain far too common.

"Our community, with people with disabilities, is large and there is not necessarily enough access out there for them and when you get leadership involved, that definitely changes a lot of avenues for our people," said Swartz.

It's "leadership" from Space Center Houston which Morgan Benson said may well trigger better opportunities for her young cousin recently diagnosed with autism.

"I think it's a huge gateway and a great start and something as amazing as this," said Benson. "It starts everything, I think I feel like."

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