5 Sensory-Friendly Australian Attractions (With Social Stories!)

by Editorial Team

With Australian attractions yawning, stretching and re-awakening after COVID-19 closures, there is plenty to do on a weekend outing. 

For families in search of autism- and sensory-friendly activities, start your planning with this list of Australian 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.

1. Melbourne Museum, Melbourne

This culture and history hub has written a few different Social Stories in consultation with AMAZE (the peak body for autistic people and their supporters in Victoria). 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.

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.

2. 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 (available 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 its Social Story for general visits.

3. 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 stunning view of the harbour and Opera House. The MCA recently rejigged its Access Plan for visitors with varied extra needs and provides 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.

The Melbourne Scienceworks building, photographed from outside on a sunny day with blue sky visible in the background.
Scienceworks in Melbourne is one of Australia’s many sensory-friendly attractions with a great Social Story.

4. 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 and the Planetarium.

5. Taronga Zoo, Sydney

Soaked up enough indoor art and ready to get wild outside? Check online for the date of the next Special Access Taronga Days. On these days, Taronga 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.

This article first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.

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