So this sunday I went to the Franklin Institute. I greatly enjoy museums, and a friend of mine had found a leaflet from the museum proclaiming “Sensory-Friendly Sundays.”
The description on the front says, “The Franklin Institute is proud to welcome families, adults, and groups with members on the autism spectrum to Sensory-Friendly Sunday, a day to enjoy the museum in your own way and in your own time. All are welcome!”
I’ll repeat on bit here: “a day to enjoy the museum.”
It only occurs one Sunday every two months, which I thought was kind of dismal, but I was also heartened that they were having sensory-friendly days at all, and I wanted to try it. So on one of the days listed, we went.
Well, we got there in the early afternoon and started poking around. We didn’t see much different about it but weren’t too concerned about that as it was being an enjoyable time. There were various enjoyable things to look at and interact with and it was going fairly well.
Until we got to the electricity section. Then it all went horribly, horribly wrong. It turns out that on the ceiling in the middle of the electricity exhibit there is a fairly large tesla coil. A tesla coil that goes off incredibly loudly, with no warning whatsoever.
We were there in the room, looking at an exhibit, when an incredibly loud, deeply painful ROAR occurred. Nothing was going wrong or was broken (as I first thought must have been happening). Nope, apparently that is just part of the exhibit. No signs warning us of it (at least that I saw), no announcement or notice ahead of time, just a sudden, horrible noise.
Honestly, that pretty much took everything out of me. Once I could feel my limbs again I left the room. And I tried to keep doing the museum, I really did. I didn’t want that to destroy the day. But honestly, I just couldn’t. It had taken too much out of me. It had been too painful. It was not long after that I realized I really had to leave.
Which, of course, brought up the question – what happened to this sensory-friendly day the museum was supposed to be having? A loud, painful noise given without any warning whatsoever, so that no one in the vicinity has a choice whether to be subjected to it or not, is extremely far from sensory-friendly. I would call it downright sensory UNfriendly. Maybe a sensory onslaught.
Before we left we went back into the ticketing area and looked for another copy of the leaflet to look at. A task which proved somewhat difficult, but we eventually found one. Turned out carefully looking over it and reading all the details on the back gave some critical extra information. “Specially adapted exhibits throughout the museum from 8:00 am-12:30pm” (emphasis mine). Now, I will grant you that it is my own fault for not reading the fine print. However, I do not think it’s my own fault for thinking that “day” (as mentioned in their description) actually means “day” rather than simply “morning.” But apparently when they say “day” they mean “morning” and personally, I think I’m justified in being unhappy at their word choice. I find it disingenuous.
Even for an autistic adult there is aftermath to such an event (and if it had happened when I was a child, I can only imagine the meltdown that likely would have resulted). Somehow my friend and I made it back to their apartment despite the fact that I was shutting down and finding it increasingly difficult to walk. I wound up collapsed on my friend’s bed, wearing their noise-cancelling headphones, for I don’t even know how long as I slowly, gradually, came out of my shutdown and became able to deal with the general noise and chaos of the world again.
I also want to mention what my friend was pointing out – while that noise was particularly bad for anyone with sensory difficulties, even neurotypicals would find it bad. As they put it, “It’s just really fucking loud and completely without warning. Most people don’t go to the museum to have the crap scared out of them.”
I am extremely unhappy with the Franklin Institute and think what they did, what they are doing, in the electricity exhibit is wrong on multiple levels. Is it really so impossible for those already rare sensory friendly days to actually be, you know, a whole DAY? Is there no reason they cannot give warning when they are about to assault their guests’ senses so we can opt out if we choose?
This was not ok.