The Reading Public Museum has earned the distinction of becoming Berks County's first destination and Pennsylvania's first museum to be designated as a Certified Autism Center by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
The museum has been recognized for its dedication to serving guests with autism and other sensory disorders by offering special sensory hours from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. on the first Monday and following Sunday of the month.
Such centers must also train and certify at least 80 percent of their staff in the field of autism, be committed to ongoing training, and comply with HIPAA and ADA requirements.
"We are proud to become a Certified Autism Center for families to visit and feel comfortable, learn, and have fun here at the museum," said Wendy Koller, the museum's education manager.
The museum's certification comes as welcome news not only to families of children with special needs, but for schools and organizations like the John Paul II Center in Cumru Township.
"As a school for individuals with special needs, we sometimes find it difficult to find accommodating programs outside of the classroom," said Rene Berkhammer, a special education teacher and transition coordinator at the John Paul II Center for Special Learning. "The museum has always been a special place for our students and adults and a certification of this caliber means that our many individuals, groups, programs, and families will be able to take full advantage of everything the museum has to offer."
In its nearly 20 years of providing autism training to licensed healthcare professionals and educators, IBCCES said it recognized that many families with children who have special needs had limited options when looking to enjoy sensory-friendly attractions and experiences, including museums, zoos, and resorts.
"Our goal is to train and certify as many destinations as possible to ensure not only that there are more options for ALL families, but also to provide knowledge and evidence-based training to those organizations that are committed to serving guests with special needs and who are going above and beyond to make sure everyone has the best possible experience," said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES's board chairman. "We're proud to work with premier organizations around the globe and are so excited to add Reading Public Museum to our list of Certified Autism Centers."
The zoo offers guests with special needs early access on select mornings, noise-canceling headphones that are free to use during their visit, and a sensory guide.
Sesame Place provides its visitors with special needs a sensory guide, quiet rooms, low sensory areas and parade-viewing locations, and noise-canceling headphones. Young guests can also visit with Julia, a 4-year-old Sesame Street character with autism.