Top Aussie venues with great Social Stories

by Sophie Cullen

With cultural attractions yawning, stretching and re-awakening after COVID-19 closures, there is plenty to do on a family weekend outing. Take your pick, whether you’re after an interactive museum experience, an animal encounter or the peace and quiet of an art gallery.

For families in search of autism- and sensory-friendly activities, start your planning with this list of Aussie cultural attractions. Each of them provides a Social Story that you can download, print and adapt in preparation for your visit. These Social Stories have great photos, instructions and information to help you visualise what you can expect when you attend in person.

Social Stories will run you through your visit from start to finish! The front desk at the Immigration Museum. Credit: Museums Victoria/ Benjamin Healley

Melbourne Museum, Melbourne

This culture and history hub has written a few different Social Stories in consultation with AMAZE. These include a Social Story about the new museum rules around COVID-19 safety measures, one about family visits with older children specifically, and one focusing on the Children’s Gallery.

Get hands on in the Children’s Gallery for little ones. Credit: Museums Victoria / Benjamin Healley

The Children’s Gallery Social Story, for instance, covers entering past the pygmy blue whale skeleton and train tunnel. It explains indoor and outdoor play areas and runs through accessing the bathroom.

Melbourne Museum also provides a Sensory Map indicating low and high sensory areas of the venue.

Scienceworks, Melbourne

Fancy yourself a mad scientist? Another venue under the Museums Victoria umbrella, Scienceworks is all about keeping curious and having interactive fun. Explore huge machines, experience the electric atmosphere of the Lightning Room and stargaze in the Melbourne Planetarium. Scienceworks has several wonderful Social Stories addressing general access with children of different ages, as well as enjoying specific gallery spaces like the Lightning Room or Planetarium.

You can ask lots of questions and get involved in the Lightning Room and beyond at Scienceworks! Credit: Museums Victoria / Benjamin Healley

ACCA – Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

ACCA’s Social Story primarily refers to school excursions. It can, however, be used as a handy starting point for your family visit. The Social Story has great information about entering the foyer and explains the different artworks on display. It also runs through the four main rules of the gallery space; don’t touch the art, speak in a quiet voice, walk instead of run and don’t eat or drink inside.

Immigration Museum, Melbourne

The exhibits of this unique museum are housed in Old Customs House on the Birrarung (Yarra River). The museum focuses on stories of migration, identity, community and belonging in Australia. It worked with AMAZE to come up with a Social Story for families with young children and for families with older children. Check out their sensory map here.

Enjoy the powerful stories and interactive experiences of the Immigration Museum with your family. Credit: Museums Victoria / Benjamin Healley

South Australian Museum, Adelaide

At this Adelaide venue, a Community Programs team is on hand at all times to help with extra access needs. There are also dedicated accessible programs, including autism-friendly family programs held on Saturday mornings before the museum opens to the public. Grab a pair of noise-cancelling headphones (which come in children’s sizes) from the front desk if you need them. All staff have completed Autism Awareness Training, and the museum also happens to be fully accessible by wheelchair. Check out their Social Story for general visits.

Learn lots at the SA Museum’s Discovery Centre. Maybe even meet some creepy crawlies! Credit: Sia Duff

National Maritime Museum, Sydney

Head north to Sydney and take the plunge into all things oceanic. Explore exhibits about maritime history, marine animals and more. You can even board a real submarine and let your wriggles out in outdoor spaces. The Kids On Deck activity space also has chances to conduct science experiments and art-making projects. Here is their Social Story about accessing Sensory Friendly Sundays at the National Maritime Museum.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

Experience colour, sculpture and some weird and wacky ideas at the MCA. Located at Circular Quay, the gallery has a great view of the harbour and Opera House. The MCA recently rejigged their Access Plan for visitors with varied extra needs. They provide a range of Social Stories. These include a general one about accessing the MCA and more specific ones about attending ARTBAR (adults-only evenings with music and guest speakers after hours) or GENEXT events.

Keep your eyes peeled for when the MCA’s access programs kick off with great activities. Credit: Anna Kucera

Taronga Zoo, Sydney

Soaked up enough art and ready to get wild outside? Check online for the date of the next Special Access Taronga Days. On these days, the zoo opens early at 8am for guests with sensory needs. Arrive before the crowds to enjoy exclusive cable car and animal encounter access in peace and quiet. The zoo also has designated Tranquil Zones. If you like, you can wear a special orange VIP badge to signal that you might want extra assistance. Read Taronga’s Social Story here.

Taronga Zoo Sydney boasts the best views of any zoo in the country. African Savannah meets sparkling harbour! Credit: Chris Wheeler

In other breaking animal news, Taronga Sydney have just opened their brand new African Savannah. Meerkats, Fennec Foxes, giraffes and zebras will call the precinct home. So will Ato and Lwazi, the two male lion residents. This will be the first time Taronga Sydney has been home to lions in five years and marks the start of an important conservation and breeding program.

Meet the kings of the jungle. Credit: Chris Wheeler

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