Kids with Autism Take Lead at Pretend City

Kids with Autism Take Lead at Pretend City

Children on the autism spectrum need to be provided with innovative strategies that enable them to learn to negotiate effectively in the real world. This is so they will feel accepted and have the proper skills to become productive adults. Pretend City Children’s Museum provides exactly that each and every month! Pretend City, a non-profit organization, is an interactive children’s museum with real-life interconnected exhibits such as a home, restaurant, farm, grocery store, and much more. It is designed to serve all children, aged infant through ten years of age, alongside their families. We are committed to parent education as well as to the rich “learning through play” that starts from the minute any child walks through our doors. Our mission is to provide a community that builds better brains through fun, whole body learning experiences, and empowers children and their grown-ups to meaningfully connect with and expand their world. As such, we are a perfect learning environment for children on the autism spectrum!

Current research states that one in every 91 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum. Autism ranks as the third highest developmental disability next to speech and language impairment and specific learning disabilities. Pretend City is dedicated to making access possible for every child who enters the museum and to give every family an equal opportunity to play and learn together in our immersive educational environment. Families have a great need for safe and accepting experiences that children with autism and their families can participate in without the fear of being ostracized—places where parents and siblings can find a community of like-minded individuals.

Children on the autism spectrum sometimes exhibit behaviors which resemble those of “unruly “children: hitting, screaming, pushing, biting, and displaying limited self control. These unpredictable behaviors force many families to stay at home with their child and forgo the “normal” activities that mainstream parents and children engage in together, such as grocery shopping, going to the beach, or visiting the park. This deprives the entire family of the everyday experiences that other families may take for granted. That is exactly why Pretend City Children’s Museum is such a wonderful place for families. Pretend City provides children and adults with real world experiences in a child-size city, allowing children to practice in a safe and fun place the very skills needed to more effectively negotiate the real world.

Children with autism exhibit delays in social-emotional development, and benefit greatly from role-playing experiences in a controlled environment with appropriate modeling. Practicing “pretend play” is a highly valued experience and often part of the therapy recommended for children with this diagnosis. Because the museum serves as a microcosm for the real world, children with autism have a chance to “practice” behavior that is appropriate for the settings they are most likely to encounter throughout their lives, such as the grocery store, gas station, and restaurant. In addition, Pretend City features an observation room that is also available to therapists who wish to assess and observe children without interrupting the natural course of their play.

Pretend City holds a monthly Family Autism Event, which is open exclusively to children on the autism spectrum and to their families, caretakers and therapists. The monthly event provides an autism-friendly environment complete with behavioral support, learning aids, modified stimuli, and friendly faces. In attendance are our Partners in Play, community specialists with expertise in specific autism support areas. They include such premier agencies and programs as Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), Exceptional Families Program at Camp Pendleton, Autism Comprehensive Educational Services (ACES), and the Orange County Association for the Education of Young Children. Our partners assist in creating all museum programming and logistical plans for each Family Autism Event and are in attendance to offer behavioral and clinical support to families during their visit.

Please check the Pretend City Children’s Museum website for the dates of all autism and other special events. Our next free Family Autism Event is scheduled for Monday, January 30th at 5pm. Besides our monthly events we have a variety of aids available at the front desk that can be used to assist children on the autism spectrum when they visit at any time.

Pretend City continues to stay on top of research in the field of autism in order to meet the diverse needs of the children we serve. As we all know, all families need community support to help with the challenging job of preparing their children for future success. Those families who have children on the autism spectrum truly need “a village” to support their more specialized challenges. Pretend City Children’s Museum is honored to provide a catalyst for other community organizations to come together with us to provide not only a village but an entire integrated community—one that creates an imaginative world designed for all children to take the lead in their own learning!

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