Johnson County Museum launches sensory friendly program for guests with special needs


OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Johnson County Museum staff are working to remove barriers and make the museum more accessible for children with special needs. 

On Monday, the Johnson County Museum launched Sensory Friendly Mondays, a new program designed to help guests with sensory processing difficulties explore the museum.

The Johnson County Museum will hold Sensory Friendly Mondays on the first Monday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. The program was created through a partnership between the Johnson County Museum and Britain Development, a program from AdventHealth Shawnee Mission.

Leah Palmer, the curator of education for the Johnson County Museum, said Sensory Mondays are a time set aside for families who may not feel comfortable visiting the museum during regular hours. 

“We have made accommodations in the main museum here and in KidScape, which is our kids exhibit, to limit the visual and auditory stimulus to create some quiet spaces for folks who might need them during their visit and really just take the time to let them know we want them to visit, that the museum is a place for them,” Palmer said. 

Janette Foster, supervisor of the autism program at the Britain Development Center, led the team that helped the adjust museum spaces be more welcoming for visitors with sensory processing difficulties.

During designated low-sensory hours, museum staff will take extra steps to make visitors feel more at ease. 

Foster said the number of museum guests will be limited, and guests can use the sensory map to navigate the lights and sounds of different museum exhibits. Staff have also established a sensory room to allow visitors to take a break if they become overwhelmed.

“Children who have sensory processing difficulties preserve information differently than you and I,” Foster said. “Sensory information comes from the environment and our bodies. Children who have difficulties with that just perceive it differently. The things that we might not notice might seem more intense to them. That can affect the way they behave. It can affect the way they access the space and how they perform in general.” 

Families can check out sensory kits during Sensory Friendly Mondays.

Foster said families can also check out sensory kits that contain things like sunglasses, noise cancelling headphones and fidget toys to help kids self-regulate if they begin to get overwhelmed. 

“Families in our community need more places that they can go. There are a lot of families that have children either that have sensory processing issues or might have autism that they really shy away from going to places like this,” Foster said.

“I would encourage families to come try it on one of the sensory friendly Mondays. It’s a great space. It’s supportive and it will be a great place for them to come and experience the museum.” 

Melissa Wirtz brought her 2-year-old son George to the museum Monday morning to see what the program had to offer. 

Two-year-old George Wirtz plays with a light wall inside KidScape

“George does have some sensory needs. He gets really easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, especially in loud, busy environments,” Wirtz said. “I was excited for the opportunity to bring him here and play without quite as much commotion that would normally be.”

Wirtz said she brought her daughter to the museum when she was younger and is thrilled to have a place where both her children can play together outside of the home. 

“Just to be able to bring George here and have that same experience has been great,” Wirtz said. 

Palmer recommends families pre-register for the sensory friendly program because the museum will be limiting occupancy during designated low-sensory hours. You can find more information on on to register here.

Upcoming Sensory Days:

  • July 12
  • August 2
  • September 13
  • October 4
  • November 1
  • December 6

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