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Sensory-Friendly Arts and Culture Experiences for People on the Autism Spectrum

Visiting The Palm Beaches with kids on the autism spectrum? Discover sensory-friendly experiences at the Benzaiten Center for Creative Arts and the Norton Museum of Art

By: Candi Spitz

We are all looking for new and exciting activities to incorporate into our lives! Luckily, we live in an area where arts and culture are at the forefront of our community with Palm Beach County offering a vast array of museums, galleries, concert venues, festivals and more.  While the opportunities for cultural experiences may seem endless – for a family of a child on the Autism Spectrum the options can become quite limited. 

As Palm Beach County is dedicated to becoming a first-rate vacation destination for accessible and special needs travel, I would like to spotlight two attractions that you may not have considered trying with your child but have proven for us to be a fun family experience.

Benzaiten Center for Creative Arts

Address: 1105 2nd Ave S, Lake Worth, FL 3346.

Benzaiten has quickly become our favorite family monthly outing. When it was first suggested that we try attending one of their monthly “Artist Blow-Out” events, I must say that I was skeptical.

New experiences are always a challenge. As an Autism Parent my first thought is how will my child be accepted, is it too much of a sensory experience (lights, sounds and more), can I bring any comfort items that my child may need to self-soothe and of course the cost – especially if we get there and one of my twins does not want to stay.

Like we all do when trying new things, I debated this one over and over again and almost talked myself out of trying it – and honestly, I am so glad we went. 

From the moment we walked into the Gallery to register, I was greeted by the warmest team members who made us feel like family immediately.  I mentioned my concerns over the boys having Autism and that I wasn’t sure how they would handle it and the staff made me feel so at ease explaining everything we would be experiencing that night.

My anxiety was quickly reduced – and as we all know our children feed off of our emotions – so if Mommy is relaxed the boys were as well.  Now, my children, though they are sensory seeking, they do also have some aversions to sounds and lights depending on the scenario.

So I am always prepared with headphones/earplugs and sunglasses. I also always carry a comfort item, for my boys it is skittles and sour patch.  And of course, their phones and back up battery.  These items proved to be all that we needed for a great evening.   

Courtesy of The Benzaiten Center for Creative Arts

These “Artist Blow-Out” events are high energy!  The Artists are actively creating a performance piece…. there is live music… the art gallery… and light bites and cocktails.

It is set is an open warehouse type setting which makes it great for autism families as you don’t need to worry about your child making noise and they don’t need to sit still – you can be walking around with them throughout the evening as needed.  And the center is located next to the train tracks, which the boys loved getting to see the trains rush by throughout the evening.

I was shocked to see that instantly my twins were enamored by the Glass Artists. They never left their seats for the 3 hour event! From the flicker of the flames to the designing of the glass, it is a mesmerizing experience to watch.   

Most importantly, from the Staff to the Artists and the Attendees, we have always had the most incredible experience.  My boys are welcomed monthly with open arms.  The regular attendees all know them already and stop by us to chat.  I know it is a place where they are loved and accepted for being exactly who they are.

As much as we have fallen in love with these Artist Blow-Out events, I will say that it may not be for every family.  But they do offer a FREE Family Day on the Saturdays following the events which are a great way to start to expose your child to glass art. 

The next Artist Blow-Out event will be held on Friday, April 12th featuring Fabiano Zanchi: Master Murano Chandelier Maker at 6:30 pm.  We hope to see you there!  https://www.benzaitencenter.org/visiting-artists#zanchi

For more information on both the Artist Blow-Out and the FREE Family Day, click here.

Artist blowout at the Benzaiten center
Courtesy of The Benzaiten Center for Creative Arts

Norton Museum of Art

Address: 1450 S Dixie Hwy, West Palm Beach, FL 33401.

Just a year ago, I never would have imagined bringing my twins to the Norton Museum of Art.  As an Autism Parent, I am always aware of the possibility that my children could seem disruptive to other patrons.  But at the same time, I have never been one to limit my children’s experiences to please others.  This becomes a vicious circle for any parent who is wanting to try new activities but has anxiety over every possible outcome. 

So I was thrilled when I learned that the team at the Norton had recently gone through autism training and have created an environment in which those on the Autism Spectrum were both supported and accepted.

Here are two great opportunities that you can experience as a family at the Norton:

Sensory-Friendly Arts and Culture Experiences for People on the Autism Spectrum

Family Autism Workshop

If you are looking for a way to introduce your child to the Norton and the world of art… this is the way to go.  The Norton now offers accessible art workshops which are fun for the entire family!
As a part of the program, families will get to take an interactive walk through the gallery and make their own art inspired by the featured artist.  Included is FREE admission to the museum. 

The staff are trained to lead programs for children with autism, so they are patient and understanding.  And the museum is equipped with accommodations including social stories, headphones fidgets, quiet areas as well as accessible art materials and timers. 

This is a great opportunity for your family to immerse ourselves into the world of art in a sensory-friendly, controlled environment.

The next workshop will be held on Sunday, April 14th.

Sensory-Friendly Arts and Culture Experiences for People on the Autism Spectrum
Courtesy of the Norton Museum of Art

Art After Dark

Now, for our family – my children are more into bigger experiences and not just workshops.  This is different for everyone, but mine prefer to visit a place where they can spend many hours exploring and having fun.  Norton Art After Dark was the answer we were looking for when it came to exposing the twins to a museum. 

Art After Dark incorporates live music, art classes, the galleries and sculpture gardens for one low price.  Admission is only $10 for Adults/Seniors and $5 for Students.  These event are held every Friday from 5 – 10 pm.

What I love about Art After Dark is that every Friday is a unique experience – so the kids are never bored. 

However, at the same time, the framework for the evening is always the same for our children who love patterns.  So they walk into each event having an idea already of what the evening will entail and that structure and routine is essential for curbing meltdowns. We like to alternate experiences when we attend to balance some of the sensory stimulation. For example, we always start with an interactive art class and then walk through one level of the gallery.  And then we will go listen to live music and then explore another level of the museum. Followed by a beautiful stroll through the sculpture gardens and typically more exploring in the museum.  Their love of art has truly blossomed through these events.

For more information on Art After Dark click here.

These are just a few of the incredible opportunities in our community to introduce your child to the world of arts and culture in a supportive environment.   For the parents, I like that these are also ways for you to have some fun alongside your child in typical events which are inclusive.  Knowing that the organizations are trained in autism, have staff that are patient, understanding and accepting goes a long way.

Also, important to note that both venues have relaxed bag policies, which is always a concern for special needs.  So rest assured you can bring any tools you need for your child to enjoy the experience.   For both venues, I would suggest bringing noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs for sensory needs.  We never leave home without Vibes high-fidelity earplugs.  They take up very little space and work from concerts to fireworks to movie theaters.

I know that trying new experiences can be stressful, but these are two that I highly recommend.  We hope to see you at Benzaiten or the Norton soon!


About the Author: Candi Spitz

Candi Spitz is the Director of Development and Community Relations for the non-profit 211 Palm Beach and Treasure Coast.  211 is the only free and confidential Crisis Hotline and Community Helpline serving the residents of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast that provides suicide prevention, crisis intervention, information, assessment, and referral to community service for people of all ages.

She has also served as an Ambassador for Project Lifesaver International Ambassador since 2012 and was currently serves as the Director of Ambassador and Public Relations.  Candi is also a radio and tv personality and has been the Host of WPTV NewsChannel 5’s segment “Take 5: Now You Know” since 2018.   She is the former National Spokesperson for Autism Speaks, she spent years as a Special Needs Advocate for the Palm Beach County Court System, and she has served as an autism trainer for Palm Beach County law enforcement and rescue workers.

Most importantly, she is the mother of identical twin sons, Brendan and Jaden, who both were diagnosed with Autism in 2009. She knows firsthand the struggles and concerns that families face each day as they navigate the maze of life with special needs and is passionate about helping families find the help they so desperately need.

Sensory-Friendly Arts and Culture Experiences for People on the Autism Spectrum

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