Conner Prairie honors autism awareness



By Nancy Edwards

Autistic individuals and their families are invited to explore Conner Prairie Interactive History Park for free tomorrow morning and April 12.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Conner Prairie and Damar Services, which helps children and adults living with developmental and behavioral challenges, have partnered together to recommend museum activities for those with autism and sensory or developmental challenges. Conner Prairie will offer free admission from 9 to 10 a.m. tomorrow and April 12.

The early admission is designed to reduce the noise and sensory overload associated with public places, which can be overwhelming to those with sensory challenges, according to Catherine Hughes, director of interpretation at Conner Prairie.

“We want to provide a time for families for a quieter and private experience,” Hughes said.

Visitors can enjoy full access to the park, which include interacting with animals, a self-guided exploration of five outdoor historical areas, crafts and more.

Designated quiet spots, to be marked on the visitor map, will include weighted blankets and soft sensory toys, among other items. As well, interpreters will be available to guide guests to the areas they are most interested in.

“We focus on the individual to create a unique experience and guided experience,” Hughes said. “I think Conner Prairie is especially suited to provide something everyone will enjoy.”

Damar Services is providing training to staff members to help them to better understand, engage and assist visitors with autism, sensory or developmental challenges. Jill Whelan, an interpretation manager with Conner Prairie, said she appreciates that staff members know how to assist those with autism, including her son.

“(My son) likes that people give him an explanation (of the activities) without forcing him into them,” she said. “They find things that work for him based on what he is interested in. Our staff is so well-trained to the needs of the individual.”

Hughes encourages families with autistic members who benefit from a quieter environment to visit the museum on Sunday mornings or Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons in May as well.

For more information on Conner Prairie, call (317) 776-6006 or visit