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Join the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC and the University of North Carolina TEACCH Autism Program as we celebrate National Autism Awareness Day on Sunday, April 2nd. The Museum will open early—exclusively for families with children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Enjoy all indoor and outdoor exhibits in a relaxed, sensory friendly atmosphere. Cool-down areas and materials, as well as visual supports, will be available during your Museum exploration. Special programs and exhibits will invite everyone to learn more about living with ASD. The Museum will open at noon for all visitors, but remain sensory friendly until closing.

For resources to help plan your visit, click here.

  • Members: Free admission up to the level of your membership.
  • Non-members: $10 per person between 10am-12pm.
  • Regular admission rates apply after 12pm.
  • Train tickets ($3 per member; $4 per non-member).
  • The popular Ellerbe Creek Railway will offer sensory friendly train rides throughout the day.
  • Hands-on demonstrations in The Lab and local organizations onsite with resources for ASD.
  • The Terrace Gallery (second floor) will host an exhibition of artwork created by local artists with ASD.

Time to Relax! (10am-12pm)
Visitors with autism and their families will participate in trying out various relaxation strategies including deep breathing, listening to music, muscle relaxation, drawing, and more! Participants will learn the benefits of relaxation and how to set up a “chill out spot” at home. Guests will also take data on which relaxation is most preferred.

Understanding Friends (12pm – 5pm)
What makes us different? What makes us the same? Participants will learn more about learning differences through hands on activities that simulate what it might be like if one experienced the world differently. A storybook on autism will be read, and tips on how to be a good friend to someone with autism spectrum disorder will be discussed.

RSVP to receive details to help you plan. Your confirmation email will include a link to purchase advance train tickets.



The Museum of Life and Science strives to be an inclusive, welcoming place for all. The following information and downloads are created specifically for guests on the autism spectrum and their families and caregivers. These materials may also be helpful for visitors who have similar social-communication challenges, or even typically developing guests.


A social narrative clarifies expectations and helps prepare you or your child for what you will do at the Museum. These stories are especially helpful when read prior to your visit. Download and print a hard copy or view on a smart phone or tablet. Hard copies also available at the admissions desk or through Guest Services.


Visual schedules are picture cards that can be sequenced to show the order of exhibits and activities you want to visit. You can print, cut out, and paper clip the cards to a hard backing, or download them on a smart phone. Visual schedules also available at the admissions desk or through Guest Services.


Activity systems use pictures to clarify, “what I will be doing, how much I will be doing, and when I am finished with a particular activity.” These systems are available to download and print and are available for the following exhibit areas:

Other Visual Supports available for download or at the admissions desk include:


Transitioning between exhibits at the Museum can be difficult, especially activities like Hideaway Woods, which has no clear ending. Consider clarifying how long you will stay in Hideaway Woods by using a visual timer or visual countdown. Using a schedule and putting another exciting activity afterward may also help your child transition more easily.

Sensory Friendly Map and Tools
This special map locates areas at the Museum that may have strong smells or offer quiet relaxation (Cool Down areas). Noise-canceling headphones and sun glasses are also available to borrow at the admissions desk.

Cool Down Areas and Kits
Cool down areas are located in the Main Building and the Butterfly House. At each location a special kit offers instructions for relaxation strategies, including deep breathing, as well as sensory toys for muscle relaxation.

Your admission receipt allows you to re-enter the Museum on the same day. If you need to take a break and leave the building, you can return later in the day free of charge. Support/caregiving staff are always admitted free of charge.

Train tickets are sold separately for specific times. On busy days, train rides often sell out. Consider coming to the Museum early if riding the train is important to you.

  • The train conductor often encourages guests to make noise as they travel through the tunnel. (On April 2, 2017, the conductor will know to encourage people to be as quiet as they can be.)
  • The train goes around the track two times per ride (except for during special events, like the Pumpkin Patch Express and Santa Train).
For more information: click here